What do we do when everything online is fake?

James Ball on the threat posed by the generation of fake news through artificial intelligence and how it risks undermining our trust in everything

The World Today
4 minute READ

James Ball

Global Editor, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

In April 2018, a video was posted showing Barack Obama, the former US President, the Stars and Stripes and seal of office over his right shoulder, giving an address warning of the dangers of increasingly sophisticated online fake news and video.

‘We’re entering an era where our enemies can make it seem like anyone is saying anything at any point in time, even if they would never say those things,’ he said in the video’s opening sentence. Then, with his next sentence, things got strange.

‘So, for instance, they could have me say things like … I dunno, “Killmonger was right”, or “Ben Carson is in the sunken place”, or simply: “Donald Trump is a total and complete dips**t”.’

In a particularly self-referential exercise, the Obama video warning of the dangers of highly sophisticated online fake videos – known as ‘deepfakes’ – was itself a deepfake, with words spoken by the filmmaker Jordan Peele made to appear as if they being said by Obama.

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