Editorial—The Problem with Faking It

This week, our feature article is an interview with AU’s Dr. Angie Abdou, an associate professor in creative writing and novelist. We’ve spoken with Dr. Abdou before in our Meeting the Minds series but this time, instead of looking at her teaching philosophies we talk to her about her process for writing and her thoughts on how social media is affecting the craft of writing.  If you’re interested in pursuing creative writing at all, this is definitely an interview you’ll want to read.  (If only to marvel that her first work was only rejected 10 times.)

Dr. Abdou has particular experience with this as you may remember from my editorial of a few weeks ago.  And in some ways this ties back in with my comments of last week, simply in how we now exist in an era where large numbers of people can organize into a movement in a matter of hours based on a hashtag and sometimes little else.   People can isolate themselves from facts by surrounding themselves with like-minded people who all believe the same falsehoods.

Before the internet, this kind of gathering was difficult, as simply finding another person willing to believe your particular brand of crazy became more difficult the further away from the status quo your crazy sits at.  This also works the other way, of course, as it’s incredibly difficult to keep lies hidden when there is an around the clock network looking for inconsistencies in anything.   Which brings me to what’s been on my mind lately. The intersection of technology and falsehood.

We all know about fake news, and most of us probably think we’re able to spot it.  Unfortunately, that’s going to get much more difficult as technology improves.  You’ve perhaps heard of a technology called “deepfakes”.  This essentially allows one person’s face to be made to mimic another person’s facial expressions on video.  But it’s not just your expressions on their face, it captures and emulates your expressions as they would do them.  So you can make Justin Trudeau or Donald Trump say anything you like, and it will look like it’s them doing the speaking.  The immediate response of most media agencies covering this is that this technology would lead to someone making a fake video that would take a country to war.

But that’s not the real issue. There are enough checks in place that any such attempt is extremely likely to be caught out, especially when all it takes is a phone call by one government lackey to another to ask “Did he really do that?”

The far larger danger, however, is that it’s going to make it impossible to hold anybody to account. Politicians are already crying fake news about media coverage they don’t like, even if it’s demonstrably true.  But what if it wasn’t. What if we couldn’t tell, without extensive analysis, that the video of someone saying something really is them?  Some politicians already are known for saying one thing to one group of people, and then saying the completely opposite thing to a different group where it serves to their advantage.  Now though, we won’t even be able to confront them with that.  “That’s manipulated video, the people who say it isn’t are paid agitators, etc.”  When absolutely anything can be a lie, what can we really trust?  I don’t have any answers, but maybe you do.  If not, at least I won’t be the only one losing sleep over it now.

Enjoy the read!