Deepfakes pose 2020 test for media

Deepfake videos are likely to pose a grave threat to the 2020 election, unless the media adopts stringent policies to distinguish real videos from sophisticated forgeries, experts say.

“The press is going to have to resist the urge to get the scoop by talking about something that may not be true before they can validate it,” said Amy Zegart, co-director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University.

“That’s going to require some technical skills and it’s going to require some patience,” she continued. “And that’s a hard thing, given the pressure for the news media to be first to the story.”

Whether the press will be willing or able to do that in a competitive 24/7 news cycle that rewards breaking news is an open question.

But journalism ethics and advocacy groups say the media will have to contain their competitive jockeying as deepfakes grow more prevalent and realistic. Some warn of a repeat of the harmful disinformation campaigns from 2016 if the press and public are not cautious.

“You know that these technologies exist to make sophisticated deepfakes and you know that people are motivated to get those scripts out there to pollute our information environments, so there’s no better time than now to slow down,” said Kathleen Culver, director for the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

It is unclear if newsrooms are prepared to confront the technological advances in deceptive content ahead of 2020. CNN, Fox News and MSNBC did not reply to requests for comment when asked about their processes and procedures for determining whether a video is a deepfake. Some experts doubt the media is.

“I think they are not at all prepared to deal with this for a whole variety of reasons,” said Amy Zegart, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. “These policy teams are having to grapple with where the boundaries are and what the policy should be in real time, so they’re making monumental decisions that affect our political life.”