Technology and Fake News: The new political warfare

Technology and Fake News: The new political warfare

By Ali Edin

In October 2013, images of the then Nairobi Senator Mike Sonko getting cosy with Rachel Shebesh made rounds on social media. Mike Sonko was quick to quash the photos terming it as the doings of his political enemies focused on tarnishing his reputation. The then Senator even went ahead to insist that there were individuals who were extorting money from him through blackmail. No one has ever been apprehended for the incident and its still unclear how true the story is.

Five years down the lane nude photos purported to be of Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala surfaced online. It later emerged that CS Sports Rashid Echesa was actually behind the plot, and he had sought the services of journalists to photoshop the Senator’s photo. The three journalists were later arrested and it was later confirmed the photos were not real and were only edited to taint Sen. Malala’s image. Politics has emerged to be a really filthy game in the Country going by the direction being taken.

The internet for a long time has been filled with fake news from sources that are questionable and inauthentic. The intention of misinformation is to paint a different picture of an individual with the sole aim of gaining political mileage. Election periods always marks a season where anything sells and no one takes time to sieve what they read and it has become hard to pick the right information from an array of distorted news or reports. According to a research done by Pew Researchers almost half of the population relies on the internet for news and informations. Is it possible to sieve what is true from what is fake?

Kenya of recent has witnessed an emergence of sites which have no other plan than gain followers even if it means destroying the characters and reputations of others. Technological advancement has brought with it a more sophisticated approach and those conversant with photoshopping know how easily an individual’s image can be used for ill motives. We are living in the worst times and moving forward we will see all sorts of fake news well crafted to make people believe in it. While fake news has been circulating as long as it’s legitimate counterpart it’s been getting a lot of play recently thanks to the way we consume information.

The marketplace of ideas already suffers from truth decay as our networked information environment interacts in toxic ways with our cognitive biases. Everybody wants information and in the midst of this some individuals have decided to spread fake news and fake videos to tarnish the images and characters of prominent individuals.

Hon. Fatuma Gedi’s fake video

In August an international team of researchers with Germany’s Max Plank institute for information unveiled a technique for producing what they called “deep video portraits”, a sort of facial ventriloquism where one person can take control of another person’s face and make it say or do things at will. It is very easy to play with images and producing a close copy of the original and that has been happening for a long time now. The sex tape alleged to have Hon. Gedi in it is just an example of how individuals can easily play around and damage others.

Artificial intelligence researcher Alex Champandard says it’s important to have a “very loud and public debate” about this creepy new method of face swapping. “Everyone needs to know just how easy it is to fake images and videos to the point where we won’t be able to distinguish forgeries in a few months from now, ” he said. The video of Hon. Fatuma was created using a machine learning algorithm that uses open-source code, meaning anyone with a working knowledge of deep-learning algorithms could do something like this, according to motherboard.

The problem isn’t just that deep fake technology is getting better, it is that the social processes by which we collectively come to know things and hold them to be true or untrue are under threat. It is possible that the greatest threat posed by fake videos lies not in the fake content but in the mere possibility of their existence. The danger is the fact that we don’t ever take time to scrutinize what we read, hear or see and that has caused the emergence of fake websites that have no any other goal rather than destroy individual characters.

The website that first published the video is a site that has a good deal of fake news that leans towards character assassination. It is not a credible site and even the name seems to be a copy, the site name is kenyanoline (check closely ‘oline’ is written wrongly). Who is the author of the story? Has he/she published anything else before? The site has no any author’s name in any single article and a small glimpse will reveal too many controversial posts. I visited a fact checking site and almost all the content on the site are fake.

The easiest way to verify a genuine website is to check if there is an “About” section and a “Contact” section. The site has neither and therefore very hard to know exactly what they do or even how to get in touch with them. The main goal for them is to get visitors and that for them can only be done if they share controversial fake news. The truth will always remain the truth but the idea of shamelessly destroying individuals reputation seems to be gaining speed even in conservative societies like us.

Let me end with this;

Kovach says; But if they already have a problem weeding out fake news articles, how are they going to handle fake news videos? Congress hasn’t shown that it’s willing to regulate the tech industry, and it’s unlikely someone else will come in and fix it before the problem gets worse.

The best advice to avoid deepfake hoaxes is the same advice to avoid all fake news and conspiracy theories. Stick to trusted news sources, that you know deliver reliable information. For now, deepfake technology isn’t that great. But we should focus on it today, because tomorrow this could look pretty real.

Ali Edin is a socio-political commentator from Isiolo.