The media will be the easiest prey of fake news menace

Abhijit Bhattacharya
Abhijit BhattacharyaMay 04, 2017 | 13:17

The media will be the easiest prey of fake news menace

The fake videos doing the rounds during the height of JNU controversy are still quite fresh in our mind. Journalists like Arnab Goswami using their monopoly power over the microphones thunderously pronounced Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid and their friends guilty based on a video footage. The footage apparently provided rock-solid “evidence” of the crime committed by Kanhaiya and his friends.

Goswami and his many other colleagues from the journalist-fraternity got away with their crime of spreading despicable misinformation without any collateral damage. But, if you think it can’t get any worse then hold your breath.

A recent article published in the MIT Technology Review gives an idea of the amazing technologies that have either already arrived or are about to hit the market.

The face-swapping technology, Face2Face, developed in Stanford University, makes it increasingly easy to generate realistic videos that will allow a user to impersonate anyone she wants with amazing accuracy.

Using convolutional neural network a Russian company, FaceApp, is able to “modify someone’s face to add a smile, add or subtract years, or swap genders”.

In another spectacular achievement, the University of Montreal based start-up, Lyrebird, demonstrated how it could impersonate anyone’s voice and gave an example of Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton “endorsing” their technology.

Since voice recordings are considered as strong pieces of evidence in the court of law, Lyrebird’s website questions the very validity of such evidence as the technology allows to easily manipulate audio recordings.


Hence, in the coming days, the Arnabs of the world will have much more power to pass judgments. The “defendants” will not even dare to question the produced “evidence” and call their bluff. Kanhaiya and his articulating comrades were lucky to escape permanent lockup. Next time, time may not be on their side.

The technology will soon allow us to produce, not only a small video clip but, a full-length film impersonating any individual. The basic foundational position of the Marxist philosophy that idea follows matter is now set to be irrefutably shattered. Whatever we concoct in our mind about a person or a situationwill be immediately madea“reality”.

With technology’s current pace of growth, it is pretty difficult to imagine what we can expect to see in the run-up to the general elections in 2019. The ruling party with its advantage of massive resources at its disposal may get tempted to create and spread vote-catching “realities”. Hope it resists from falling into that kind of a temptation.

Like in a nuclear war, there won’t be any winner in this dangerous information war. In today’s app-driven world one doesn’t require too much of resources to reach a large audience and get desired results, including creating massive public unrests and widespread riots.

It is time that the policymakers, academia and the civil society at large wake up and face this grave situation. Otherwise, the technology in the hands of fundamentalist groups belonging to different religions and extremist ideologies will become the Frankenstein’s monster creating mayhem all around us.

The fake videos that are currently circulating in the Kashmir Valley (originating from both sides) showing gruesome attacks on the Army as well as inhuman repression of the civilians in order to rouse passion, may soon look like harmless pranks. With the arrival of the new and highly sophisticated fake videos, the situation can quickly go out of control.

To tackle the situation, the government must take the initiative to make all sections of the population aware of the realities of this information war and evolve a consensus to fight this war. It must also take strict action against all those who already got caught red-handed for spreading misinformation.

With the present pace of technological development, time is certainly running out for us to tackle this menace. At a time when the credibility of Indian journalism is at an all-time low and continues downward movement, it may not be irrational to expect that soon fake video and audio clips impersonating political leaders will start reaching our population through TV, radio and social media.

In a country where a huge section of the population is either illiterate or semi-literate, and where for a large section of the educated and moneyed people taboos are preferable to critical thinking and questioning, it doesn’t require much intelligence to foresee the absolute mayhem the fake audio-visual material may cause, particularly when the production of those material is done with so much of perfection.

Last updated: May 04, 2017 | 13:17
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