A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

One of the most significant ways today’s protests differ from uprisings in the 60s is the ubiquity of cellphone cameras. It’s one thing to hear verbal descriptions of improper behavior–quite another to see it.

Historians tell us that it wasn’t until the Viet Nam war was televised that American public revulsion ended it.

When there’s video, when there are pictures, it’s no longer possible to dismiss accusations as overheated, harder to tell yourself there must have been more to the story…The widespread outrage we are seeing right now is in reaction to appalling behaviors that are shared daily on social media and the evening news.

Unfortunately, propagandists also understand how visual evidence shapes public opinion. Case in point: Fox News. As the Washington Post reported:

Fox News on Friday removed manipulated images that had appeared on its website as part of the outlet’s coverage of protests over the killing of George Floyd…

The misleading material ran alongside stories about a small expanse of city blocks in Seattle that activists have claimed as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. That occupation had until then been peaceful–with people coming and going to hear political speeches and concerts and enjoy free food. Fox’s coverage, however, was designed to give the appearance of armed unrest.

The misleading material spliced a June 10 photograph of an armed man at the Seattle protests with different photographs — one also from June 10, of a sign reading, “You Are Now Entering Free Cap Hill,” and others from images captured May 30 of a shattered storefront and other unrest downtown.

The conservative news site, in coverage that labeled Seattle “CRAZY TOWN” and called the city “helpless,” also displayed an image of a city block set ablaze that was actually taken in St. Paul, Minn.

It wasn’t until the Seattle Times called Fox out for the misleading photographs that Fox removed them and “apologized,” saying “a recent slide show depicting scenes from Seattle mistakenly included a picture from St. Paul, Minnesota. Fox News regrets these errors.”

Sure they do.

Rolling Stone had yet another report of Fox’s “editing.”

A local Fox affiliate ran a story about a family flagging down law enforcement to protect their business from looters, only to have the police come and handcuff them. Fox News removed footage showing police drawing their guns and putting the family in handcuffs, and selectively edited out the police’s mistakes and aggressive tactics.

It isn’t just television. The Internet is awash with deceptive sites; just this week, I read about a site run by a Trump supporter with the URL JoeBiden.info, featuring out-of-context quotes from the former vice president and GIFs of him touching women in ways that would make women uncomfortable.

Now, we face the prospect of even more massive disinformation campaigns via so-called “deepfakes.” As Forbes recently warned, deepfakes are going to create havoc–and we are not prepared.

Last month during ESPN’s hit documentary series The Last Dance, State Farm debuted a TV commercial that has become one of the most widely discussed ads in recent memory. It appeared to show footage from 1998 of an ESPN analyst making shockingly accurate predictions about the year 2020.

As it turned out, the clip was not genuine: it was generated using cutting-edge AI. The commercial surprised, amused and delighted viewers.

What viewers should have felt, though, was deep concern.

Deepfake technology allows anyone with a modicum of skill and a computer to create realistic photos and videos showing people saying and doing things that they didn’t actually say or do. The technology is powered by something called “generative adversarial networks (GANs).”

Several deepfake videos have gone viral recently, giving millions around the world their first taste of this new technology: President Obama using an expletive to describe President Trump, Mark Zuckerberg admitting that Facebook’s true goal is to manipulate and exploit its users, Bill Hader morphing into Al Pacino on a late-night talk show.

The counterfeits are already hard to detect, and the technology continues to improve; meanwhile, its use is growing at a rapid pace.

It does not require much imagination to grasp the harm that could be done if entire populations can be shown fabricated videos that they believe are real. Imagine deepfake footage of a politician engaging in bribery or sexual assault right before an election; or of U.S. soldiers committing atrocities against civilians overseas; or of President Trump declaring the launch of nuclear weapons against North Korea. In a world where even some uncertainty exists as to whether such clips are authentic, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Because of the technology’s widespread accessibility, such footage could be created by anyone: state-sponsored actors, political groups, lone individuals.

The potential for chaos and political mischief boggles the mind. Given the reluctance of platforms like Facebook to alert users to even obvious lies, they’re unlikely to identify deepfakes, even if they develop technology enabling them to do so.

It’s already difficult to counter much of the disinformation disseminated through cyberspace–for one thing, we don’t know who has seen it, so we don’t know where to send corrections.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s a fake picture worth?

 

 

22 thoughts on “A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

  1. Why do we keep labeling FoxNews “conservative”? They are anything BUT conservative. Clearly, they are the audio-visual extension of right-wing extremist reactionary-ism that the fascist party, aka Republicans, need to promote their lies, disinformation and hate/bigotry. The label should be more accurate: FASCIST NETWORK.

  2. The technology that produces the pictures and videos is amazing but doesn’t begin to compare in impact with the AI algorithms developed by Facebook and other social media platforms to amplify deep fakes and misinformation on their platform. This is all done to maximize as revenue and it needs to be outlawed. The Zuckster and his co-conspirator Sheryl Sandberg (widely admired but equally evil) have assured regulators and Congress multiple times that they are not a media company but just a platform for all to use and that they cannot regulate its content, nor should society even WANT that. But they DO regulate content by deciding to amplify a post way beyond what it would organically achieve in likes and shares of it if the platform were truly neutral. And the more controversial and inflammatory the post the more likely Facebook’s algorithms will pick it up and put it on millions of user’s feeds. Dems have traditionally been very friendly to and hands off with respect to the technology sector but this is changing. And companies like North Face and AdWorks are publicly boycotting As placements on Facebook claiming they don’t want their companies and their products and services to be found alongside racist and/or violent content. The Fall election will be a watershed moment for Facebook. If they stick to their current policy it’s hard to imagine it won’t be weaponized to an even greater extent than it was in ‘16. But I’d it is and the current party in control of the WH and Senate lose both, it could be the end of one of the most valuable and profitable enterprises in global business history.

    Some of my comments are based on the book “Zucked – Waking Up to the Facebook Catastrophe” by Roger MacNamee, which I highly recommend.

  3. I remember a freshman English teacher at Arlington High School in the 1960s who encouraged her students to watch the news and the video broadcasts from Vietnam to decide for ourselves the importance of that war. I have never thanked her, but she was a terrific educator. I believe she left the teaching profession to pursue other things. If I could remember her name, I would love to give her a hug and say “thank you.”

  4. I remember a freshman English teacher at Arlington High School in the 1960s who encouraged her students to watch the news and the live video broadcasts from Vietnam to decide for ourselves the importance of that war. I have never thanked her, but she was a terrific educator. I believe she left the teaching profession to pursue other things. If I could remember her name, I would love to give her a hug and say “thank you.”

  5. Vernon, exactly. ‪But FAUX News has spent billions carefully nurturing itself as a voice for conservatism or “fair and balanced” journalism. The wider question is how do “conservatives” in general get off using that term to describe their values and policies at all?? In other words, why have conservatives gotten away with using that label for decades when they’re really just authoritarians and the most right-wing (and among them are just fascists???‬ It’s likely because we’re afraid to use those words in polite society as they might offend people (ha!). But the people who give them a free pass are the same people, including the press, who have given Trump and his criminal enterprise a mostly-free pass over the last 4 years as well.

  6. Patrick,

    Exactly correct. Our voter apathy and political avoidance are also responsible for the lack of checks and balances. Some media tries very hard to get it right, but they also have to sell papers and air time. One look at who owns the major news outlets sheds much light on what they produce for “consumption” by the general public.

    Did you see the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” about the Edward R. Morrow pushback against McCarthy-ism? CBS was caught in that money trap, but their upper management hung in there with Morrow and Joe McCarthy’s demagoguery was outed as the idiocy it always was. I think our news outlet ownership lacks that kind of integrity to be servants of the truth instead of the bottom line.

  7. So few people these days need much to believe that their personal enemies are the root of all evil. That’s how we get an armed jackass in a pizza joint in D.C, looking to save the children from Hillary. We need an injection of discernment for the entire population. My advice is, don’t believe anything you see on your computer. Go check it out at Snopes or any of the dozens of other fact checkers available today.

  8. I agree with Vernon, the WaPo is doing a disservice to the press when it refers to Fox News as “conservative.” There is probably a good reason WaPo avoids using the word, “propaganda” when referring to other new’s sites.

    When you have free markets, the offset is “buyer beware.” In other words, there are people and organizations within these markets who will manipulate you however they can in order to get you to buy their product. How long did it take politicians and our government from imposing restrictions on the tobacco and alcohol industry?

    Decades.

    Based on my informal Facebook experiment, the buyers aren’t equipped with enough cognitive reasoning to assess what they are buying.

    If free markets are contingent on two rational parties entering into an agreement, doesn’t our current situation cripple fundamental premises of market theories?

    If the art of manipulation is getting more sophisticated for “sellers” and the cognitive abilities of “buyers” have lessened, what does that say about our fundamental assumptions of societal transactions?

  9. Again…it has been a few months…it is getting desperately important for critical thinking, visual literacy, technology literacy to be major subjects in school instead of stuff needed to answer standardized tests. Thinking people can learn to question what they are told in any medium.

    “You have to be carefully taught” – to think. Still out there from the 60’s – “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” – Postman and Weingartner.

  10. Lester,

    “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” is from “South Pacific”, which opened in 1949. It’s a great song in a play that is all about prejudice.

  11. Vernon and Patrick; the movie “Truth”, the story of George W’s bogus “military career” which ended after his basic training, was reported on “60 Minutes” by Dan Rather. Mary Mapes and her crew had done the research and filming; they could only be allowed to read the original military records of W’s AWOL till his discharge date; no copies allowed. The lack of that documentation was the basis for the Republican party and the Bush multi-millions used to have the “60 Minutes” production retracted and Dan Rather was allowed to publicly “retire”. They were in fact all fired! Dan Rather later reported that the movie “Truth” was in fact the full truth. I have always believed that is why he came out of retirement when Trump began his campaign; to fight the Republican party.

  12. FOX in particular delivers what their viewers want to see and hear. Marketing and Capitalism to maximize profits is the name of game. So if FOX has a slant it is dictated by what their viewers want to see and hear.

    I disagreed with him but, William Buckley could articulate a “Conservative” view point. At some point the Buckley’s who could discuss with intelligence their viewpoints were cast aside for the Radio Jocks like Limbaugh.

    At some level someone in the FOX organization decided it was OK to fraudulently misrepresent the News. Even if FOX is called out the message went out, and Foxites, believed it because they saw and heard it on FOX, and it fit into their beliefs.

    There is a saying, “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes.”, the interesting thing is this quote is often mis-attributed to various people.

  13. Apparently we have arrived at a point where we can have anyone say what we want them to say and in a pictorial setting, a dangerous tool indeed in the hands of those who are selling goods, services and propaganda. I especially see problems in re those dealing with political propaganda (e.g., Jill Biden’s endorsement of porn sites etc.).

    There’s an old saying that goes “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.” We can now expand that to “Don’t believe anything you hear or see.” With content available at the flick of a button, it seems to me that our curricular czars should de-emphasize content in favor of emphasis on critical thinking. This won’t make the readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic crowd happy, but when have they ever been happy?

  14. What does “conservative” even mean? What’s it supposed to mean?

    I’ve stopped using it and replaced it with the more meaningful term “authoritarian”. Thus the political spectrum goes from liberal to authoritarian.

    I find that substitution explains the current political situation much more accurately and understandably.

  15. Conservative my ass!

    Liberals/Progressives are the only truly conservative faction of American politics.

    Liberals believe in conserving natural resources, while misnamed Conservatives believe in consuming natural resources, and the more gluttonish we consume, the better for Fascist profit.

    Liberals believe in conserving national assets, including capital, by planning for the long term, instead of for the quarterly report.

    Liberals believe in conserving human dignity, all human’s dignity, instead of destroying it for the sake of a few Fascist’s sick and cowardly ego.

    Liberals believe in conserving the health and strength of Americans, while so-called conservatives believe in sacrificing health and strength of all for the sake of a few Fascist’s wealth.

    Many more examples of Liberal adherence to conservative principles could be added to this abbreviated list, so suffice it to say: Liberals believe in conserving all good things, while so-called conservatives advocate for consuming them and conserving only the evil things.

    Every time we use the word “Conservative” to label Fascist philosophy, entities, individuals, policies, etc., we contribute to the ruse the Fascists are using to exploit us all. Our continued acquiescence to this one-word lie is to Fascists worth ten times the truth of all the photos and videos in the world.

    So-called Conservatives are not Conservatives and should not be called conservative; they are Profligates underpinned by Fascist ideology and should be called Profligates and Fascists.

    If anyone should be called Conservative, it should be the Liberals and Progressives.

  16. ML,

    Reading “The Loudest Voice in the Room” explains much about how Fox News got to be the way it is. Roger Ailes, a truly mentally ill wretch, bullied Rupert Murdoch into the “style” of presentations we see on Fox still today. Ailes knew his audience, and he pumped them full of his hate and bigotry creating a massive ratings success story. Guys like Ailes and Murdoch have no real moral compass. Their needle points only to money, ratings and compromising as many people as possible. Oh, and Ailes was George H.W. Bush’s campaign director too. See the connection? Money, Republican politics, psychotic winning philosophies and a lack of ethics, grace or respect for anyone but themselves.

  17. Orwell’s visions didn’t even come up with this stuff.

    Oddly, a faked video of Trump negotiating an elimination of debt with German banks for eliminating their US penalties wouldn’t change his ardent base’s opinion one iota.

  18. Hereʻs the cure – pull the plug on Fox Spews, Obnoxious OAN, Rush Limpblah, NewsMush, and so on. They have abused their first amendment rights. People are dying because of their lies and hate.

    As for social media platforms, delete our FaceBk accounts, and while weʻre at it, Twitter and Instagram, too. Starve the beasts. Next, after we win in November, break up the monopolies of FaceBk, Google, Amazon, et al.

    As for the new fake video technology, someone please make the PeePee Tape – Anonymous, are you listening?

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