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Fake news is more real than ever

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/stevanovicigor

There’s a cutting-edge trend in video development with promising — and alarming — implications. This double-edge sword is known as “deepfake,” and it uses artificial intelligence to create convincing videos of people doing and saying things they haven’t actually done. Deepfake gained notoriety after users on the popular internet forum Reddit created fake pornographic videos of celebrities, though it has also seen more benign uses.

Deepfake technology comes with potential for propaganda that could easily be capitalized on by bad actors. Imagine a video of a presidential candidate saying or doing something that would evaporate their support — or manipulated footage of a public figure doing something illegal. It’s a matter of when, not if, deepfake technology will be used for propaganda purposes. The only antidote is Americans must adopt a deeper level of scrutiny and resist urges to rush to judgment.

Video has long been used as a tool to advance agendas — one need only think of Nazi film director Leni Riefenstahl. Even ISIS has a propaganda arm and will do multiple takes and use scripts, staging battles and other events in order to maximize the effectiveness of the group’s propaganda.

Staged propaganda can also be used in the service of lobbying campaigns. An explosive report published this month by fashion magazine Women’s Wear Daily revealed that, for over a decade, animal rights activists at PETA and other groups have been using a staged video to drum up support for anti-fur campaigns.

The gruesome video from a Chinese fur market, published a decade ago, shows a degree of animal abuse that would make anybody queasy.

But now, the men involved in the video have come forward and testified that they were paid by a man and a woman to brutally kill an animal while the onlookers filmed the event. Reflecting on the act, one of the men said, “We felt uncomfortable. It was cruel for the animal. Even now, after so many years, every time I think about what we did it makes me uncomfortable. It is something we regret.”

Both the men have experience working in the fur trade and said they had never been asked to do something so cruel — such cruelty has no place nor purpose in the fur trade. But that didn’t stop animal activists from boosting the horrific video and claiming it represents the fur industry.

The video was used when PETA activists lobbied to pass fur bans in Los Angeles and San Francisco. A staged video caused significant damage.

That’s not even PETA’s only staged-video situation. In 2017, PETA attempted to spread a computer-generated video of a cat being abused in order to manufacture outrage — but the hoax was quickly called out and publicized by the website Mashable, which refused to spread the hoax.

This is suspiciously similar to a video that went viral last year purporting to show a feminist in Russia pouring bleach on the crotches of men who were “manspreading” — sitting with spread legs on public transit and crowding out other passengers.

Just like in the Chinese fur video, the men came forward saying the video was staged and they were paid to appear in the footage. The video was even filmed by a studio that has worked with the Kremlin.

Yet the hoax worked. The “crazy Russian feminist” video was crafted to drum up anti-feminist sentiment, and it received international coverage in major media outlets including Fox News and The Independent.

As Mark Twain once remarked, a lie travels halfway across the world before the truth has its boots on. In the internet age, it can circumnavigate the globe. Citizens and lawmakers must recognize that bad actors are willing to use dishonest tricks to manipulate the public. In this new age of propaganda, we must be more vigilant than ever before.

Will Coggin is managing director of the Center for Consumer Freedom. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

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