Can You Believe It?

How to spot a 'deepfake' video

A woman watches a video on a small tablet.
A woman in Washington, DC, views a manipulated video on January 24, 2019, that changes what is said by President Donald Trump and former president Barack Obama, illustrating how deepfake technology can deceive viewers.
Rob Lever | AFP via Getty Images

This is part of “Can You Believe It?” a series of stories and resources focused on giving you the tools to fight disinformation heading into Election 2020. You can find more resources here. What have you been seeing? Share here.

What they are

These are videos that have been manipulated using artificial intelligence to make it appear as if a person said or did something they didn’t. They involve face-swapping technology that superimposes one person’s face on another person’s body.

They’re different from photoshopped images or videos that have been edited to manipulate someone’s words, for instance.

Who makes them

Anyone can with the help of sophisticated software and some visual editing expertise. At least one company will make them for you.

Why they can be dangerous

To date, most deepfake videos have been made for fun — like this gem that superimposed actor Nick Offerman’s mug on every character’s face from the 1990s sitcom “Full House.”

But computer technology experts and lawmakers worry deepfakes will increasingly be used to create political confusion and disinformation as the technology behind the technique improves.

Director and comedian Jordan Peele, who does a mean impression of former President Barack Obama, made this deepfake video just to prove that point.

But Claire Wardle, director of First Draft, a nonprofit aimed at helping journalists navigate disinformation, said in a New York Times op-ed video that her bigger concern is that if anything can be fake, it “becomes much easier for the guilty to dismiss the truth as fake.”

“You can see where this road leads. As public trust in institutions like the media, education and elections dwindles, then democracy itself becomes unsustainable,” she said.

How to spot one

Most deepfakes — even the most convincing ones — seem off. Experts say to look for the following if you suspect a video is a deepfake:

  • Blurriness where the face meets the neck and hairline

  • Facial discolorations

  • Bad lighting

  • And if the subject of the video isn’t blinking normally, you’re probably looking at a deepfake.

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