Fake videos pose a new PR challenge

New technology will make it easy for hoaxers to alter speakers’ words and even facial expressions. Are you prepared to respond to an unflattering edit?

If you disdain the proliferation of fake news articles, steel yourself for the rise of fake videos.

Seeing is no longer believing. Video editing technology now makes it possible to stealthily overdub a speaker’s words.

University of Washington researchers demonstrated the troubling potential of this new technology by producing a fake video of President Barack Obama. In their Synthesizing Obama project, researchers synched Obama’s lips in the video to edited audio from his previous speeches. They put different words in his mouth, completely altering the original commentary, content and context. The video is convincing.

Researchers at the Face2Face project at Stanford University have created technology that can change facial expressions on videos. So far, they’ve transformed facial expressions of George W. Bush, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump by having them mimic expressions of human actors.

Adobe’s Project Voco software can alter audio recordings to add words and phrases the speaker never uttered—in what sounds like the speaker’s voice.

The technology will advance rapidly

The fakes can be spotted fairly easily—so far. However, experts predict these technologies will advance quickly.

As the costs of software and editing tools fall, and as the technology spreads, PR professionals should be wary of fake videos created for nefarious purposes. Anyone with a grievance and an internet connection will be able to create and post a video of a CEO issuing controversial or outlandish statements.

Politicians, celebrities and business leaders will surely all be in the crosshairs. News media outlets—which are struggling to maintain credibility and trust in the fake news era—will also face challenges because of this emerging technology.

Ideas for responding to faked videos

Francis Tseng, a co-publisher of The New Inquiry, advocates stronger, professional ethical standards for software developers. Other engineering occupations have robust ethical standards, which are hammered home through formal training programs.

“The boon of programming education is its decentralization and wide accessibility, but this also means people often pick up the skills without the necessary ethical frameworks to accompany them,” Tseng told Business Insider.

Experts also urge tech and media companies to develop ways to detect altered videos.

“Social media companies, as well as the classical [sic] media companies, have the responsibility to develop and set up fraud detection systems to prevent spreading and sharing of misinformation,” Justus Thies, who helped develop Face2Face, told Business Insider.

Fake videos are here, and the technology is getting more advanced by the day. Hoaxers will soon be able to place their own words into the mouths of speakers on videos. PR teams should be aware of this risk and prepare a response plan.

A version of this post first appeared on Glean.info.

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Topics: PR


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