Deepfakes. We’ve all seen them by now. They are the short, edited videos of politicians and celebrities, saying things completely out of character, which look so plausibly genuine that at a quick glance—or on a small screen—you might catch yourself saying, “wait, did they really just say that?”

Of the most famous examples, there is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg talking about the all-encompassing power of Big Data, or “Synthesizing Obama,” a project of three University of Washington researchers who created deepfake videos of former U.S. President Barack Obama.

</p> <p>With technology zooming ahead of detection and regulation, deepfakes have become something of a moral panic in democracies around the world. &#8220;Fake news&#8221; has become rampant and played a—however marginal—role in some of the globe&#8217;s biggest elections, such as the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-47797151">recent vote in India</a> and, of course, <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2018/10/16/power-fake-news-brazil-elections/">Brazil 2018</a>. The fear is that videos, when carefully constructed, would have an even bigger effect on public opinion, with fewer and fewer voters getting their information from the traditional media.</p> <p>A group of U.S. lawmakers recently issued a <a href="https://www.cnet.com/news/deepfakes-are-a-threat-to-national-security-say-lawmakers/">letter</a> calling deepfakes a national security issue. &#8220;As deep fake technology becomes more advanced and more accessible, it could pose a threat to [our] public discourse and national security, with broad and concerning implications for offensive active measures campaigns targeting the United States,&#8221; the letter said.</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-youtube wp-block-embed is-type-video is-provider-youtube wp-embed-aspect-16-9 wp-has-aspect-ratio"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <span class="embed-youtube" style="text-align:center; display: block;"><iframe class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='1200' height='675' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/9Yq67CjDqvw?version=3&#038;rel=1&#038;fs=1&#038;autohide=2&#038;showsearch=0&#038;showinfo=1&#038;iv_load_policy=1&#038;wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'></iframe></span> </div></figure> <h2>Brazilian deepfake master</h2> <p>However, while the deepfake technology and expertise exists in Brazil, the results we have so far are notably different, as we see from President Jair Bolsonaro singing Whitney Houston&#8217;s &#8220;<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJJQzBO4dro">I Will Always Love You</a>&#8221; to Donald Trump, or the horrifying image of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnjYmGuw214">former President Lula superimposed onto Mariah Carey&#8217;s body</a>, asking Mr. Bolsonaro: &#8220;why you so obsessed with me?&#8221;</p> <p>The wizard behind these peculiar—and hilarious—skits is <a href="https://www.instagram.com/brunnosarttori/?hl=en">Bruno Sartori</a>, a 30-year-old law student from the countryside of Minas Gerais state. He started working with video editing when he was 15 years old and quickly got into comedy, producing videos lampooning local politics in his hometown of Unaí.</p> <p>&#8220;I always used to like swapping faces, voices, so I basically wanted to look for better technology to improve my work,&#8221; he told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. This search for new techniques led him to the world of deepfakes, which he described as the use of an artificial intelligence script that has the ability to copy images through machine learning.</p> <p>&#8220;Basically, I search for a database and I end up with about 6 or 7,000 images. Then I run these through the script so that it can learn and generate the faces,&#8221; explains Mr. Sartori.</p> <p>And what about his creative process? Where exactly does one come up with the idea of <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTNHDT_-i54">Education Minister Abraham Weintraub singing Rihanna&#8217;s &#8220;Umbrella&#8221;</a>? Or Jair Bolsonaro <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mtVpjrvKo7o">superimposed onto characters from the movie &#8220;White Chicks&#8221;</a>?</p> <p>&#8220;My ideas come from nowhere really. The jokes are already there, I just put it all together,&#8221; he says, with a touch of modesty.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-embed-youtube wp-block-embed is-type-video is-provider-youtube wp-embed-aspect-4-3 wp-has-aspect-ratio"><div class="wp-block-embed__wrapper"> <span class="embed-youtube" style="text-align:center; display: block;"><iframe class='youtube-player' type='text/html' width='1200' height='675' src='https://www.youtube.com/embed/JJJQzBO4dro?version=3&#038;rel=1&#038;fs=1&#038;autohide=2&#038;showsearch=0&#038;showinfo=1&#038;iv_load_policy=1&#038;wmode=transparent' allowfullscreen='true' style='border:0;'></iframe></span> </div></figure> <h2>Using his powers for good</h2> <p>What is clear from Mr. Sartori&#8217;s work is that, regardless of how uncanny some of his creations may be, he is not trying to fool anyone. In fact, at several points in his conversation with <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> he mentions the need to alert the population to the existence of deepfake technology.</p> <p>&#8220;[Making these videos] is my way of showing the population that the technology exists,&#8221; he explains. &#8220;If they&#8217;re not aware of it, we&#8217;re lost. People are going to believe in this fake content.&#8221;</p> <p>The danger of deepfake videos in the public arena is that they are easily shareable and, on small screens, terrifyingly convincing. A piece of <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2018/04/18/podcast-brazil-fake-news/">fake news</a> does not need to be watertight and of excellent quality, as once it is shared around instant messaging groups, the message has already been planted.</p> <p>&#8220;Today, I could easily come up with a video of Jair Bolsonaro saying he made up his stabbing [in reference to the incident in September 2018 when Mr. Bolsonaro was stabbed in the abdomen during a campaign rally]. Or I could do a video of Lula saying he was behind the stabbing,&#8221; says Mr. Sartori. &#8220;Once it&#8217;s out there, until you can disprove it, some people will already believe it.&#8221;</p> <p>The fear is that after the wave of fake news in last year&#8217;s presidential elections, political campaigns will begin producing their own deepfake videos, without any sufficient mechanisms on social media to curb this practice.</p> <p>&#8220;I&#8217;ve been invited by political campaigns to produce videos,&#8221; says Mr. Sartori. &#8220;But it would be to create fake videos [for politics], that&#8217;s unthinkable.&#8221;</p> <h2>How to spot deepfakes</h2> <p>So, with technology rapidly advancing and several deepfake videos fooling even discerning viewers, what is the best way to spot a bogus video?</p> <p>Mr. Sartori explains that there are three main bottlenecks in the production of deepfakes. Firstly, the resolution of the face itself. &#8220;They are still a bit blurred, normally looking different to the rest of the video. When you look closely you can tell its a fake.&#8221;</p> <p>Then there is the mouth, where lip-synching has yet to be perfected and some visual points may be giveaways. Mr. Sartori explains that looking at the teeth can be a good way to spot edited footage.</p> <p>Finally, eyebrows. &#8220;Sometimes you can end up with two, because in some images the brow will be more arched than others, so when you put it together both of them will appear,&#8221; he says.</p> <p>&#8220;The thing is, these tips are probably going to be useless soon, because the techniques are just going to get better and better.&#8221;

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PowerOct 30, 2019

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BY Euan Marshall

Euan Marshall is a Scottish journalist living in São Paulo. He is co-author of A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.