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Top tips for spotting deepfakes online

BY Bernard Marr

27th Jan 2023 Technology

Top tips for spotting deepfakes online

Wondering what deepfakes are, and why you should care? Bernard Marr shares his top tips for demystifying deepfakes and spotting them online

Deepfakes—digital manipulations of media that use artificial intelligence to create realistic, altered images or videos—can be used to create seemingly genuine footage of people saying or doing things that they never actually said or did.

Researchers, visual effects specialists, amateur enthusiasts, and even porn producers are all creating deepfakes now. It’s also possible that political parties and governments are producing deepfakes to try to discredit extremist groups or opponents.

While deepfakes have the potential to revolutionize certain industries, they also pose significant risks to society. Nefarious parties can easily spread misinformation and propaganda using deepfake technology, potentially leading to harmful consequences.

"A big part of digital literacy is learning how to think critically about what we see online"

It's important that we, as internet users, build our digital literacy skills so we can successfully navigate our online world—in everyday life, in education, and at work. 

A big part of digital literacy is learning how to think critically about what we see and hear online. One important digital literacy skill is being able to identify and debunk deepfake content to protect ourselves and others from being misled.

In this article, we'll dive deeper into what deepfakes are and how they're created, and I’ll provide some tips on how to spot a deepfake and what to do to protect yourself from falling victim to one.

How to spot a deepfake

How to spot deepfakes - confused man looking at computer

If you’d like to see some very convincing deepfake videos, you can look at this Morgan Freeman video from Dutch YouTube creator Diep Nep, or check out the series of fake Tom Cruise videos from visual and AI effects artist Chris Umé.

There are positive uses for deepfake technology—like creating digital voices for people, or updating film footage instead of reshooting—however, as the tools get more sophisticated, the potential for malicious use of deepfakes is concerning.

"As the tools get more sophisticated, the potential for malicious use of deepfakes is concerning"

For example, if malicious actors were to present a deepfake of a world leader as a genuine communication, it could pose a threat to global security. Given the speed at which "fake news" can spread around the world, there is a real threat that people or organizations could use deepfakes to manipulate public opinion and deceive others into believing they are authentic representations.

Here are 4 things to look for if you suspect you might be looking at a deepfake:

Unnatural facial or eye movements

It’s difficult for deepfake producers to accurately reproduce eye or facial movements and imitate the ways humans blink. When examining questionable videos, look for strange eye movements or a face that doesn’t display normal-looking emotions that match what’s being said.

Mismatches in lighting and color

Does the skin tone of the person in the video look odd? Is the lighting peculiar, or are there strangely-positioned shadows on the person’s face? Take note of discrepancies in the video, and if possible, compare the lighting and color to an original reference photo or video.

Poor audio quality

Producers of deepfake videos often focus more on visuals than on sounds, so watch out for poor lip-syncing, strange word pronunciation, robotic-sounding voices, or digital background noise.

Problems with body movement

If the person in the video appears distorted when they turn to the side or move their head—or if their movements look disconnected or choppy from one frame to the next—you might be looking at a deepfake video.

Awkward posture

Deepfake technology often concentrates on facial features rather than on the entire body, so it can be easy to detect body position and posture anomalies.

If the person’s body shape doesn’t look natural in the video, or if their body or head is positioned inconsistently or awkwardly, you could be looking at a deepfake video.

"Deepfakes are not a passing trend and will be a continuing presence online"

You can look at my own deepfake to test some of these tips. I am not using expensive, top-level editing for these, but standard tools that can automatically generate videos of my looking like me and sounding like me, simply from typing some text into an interface.

Deepfakes are not a passing trend and will be a continuing presence online. As deepfake technology continues to advance, it will become even more important for audiences to be vigilant in identifying fake videos so they don’t fall victim to manipulation.

Bernard Marr is a futurist, strategic advisor to many of the world’s best-known organisations and award-winning author of new book Future Skills: The 20 Skills and Competencies Everyone Needs to Succeed in a Digital World (published by Wiley, out now)

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