Does Deepfake Kill? Or Does It Merely Steal?

In December 2012, the internet was ablaze with shock and disbelief as a video of an eagle snatching a child in a park went viral, reaching unprecedented views. However, this sensational event was the craft of a few students aiming to make their mark in the digital realm.

A Student Assignment

A teacher tasked students with a challenge that tested both their technical skills and creativity: to create a video that would garner at least 100,000 views on YouTube. Three imaginative students from the field of 3D animation, Normand Archambault, Loïc Mireault, and Félix Marquis-Poulin, realized that the secret to viral success lies in combining two elements that always capture attention – children and animals. They decided to push the envelope by merging these aspects in a spectacular manner. After dedicating 400 hours to perfecting their animation, the video went viral, surpassing all expectations. Utilizing advanced 3D animation techniques, they created a scene so realistic that many viewers believed it to be genuine. One individual, however, an ornithologist specializing in eagle behavior, noted after analyzing the film that eagles do not maneuver as depicted in the video.

Upon achieving immense popularity, the students revealed the truth behind their project, showcasing the capabilities of contemporary computer animation and sparking a debate on the credibility of content shared online. This academic assignment transformed into a powerful reminder of the influence of digital media on society’s perception of reality. The tale of Archambault, Mireault, and Marquis-Poulin is a testament in the digital media realm to how modern technology can blur the lines between reality and fiction. This was 12 years ago, and since then, we’ve entered a whole new orbit.

Does Deepfake Kill?

The emergence of deepfake technology, a blend of “deep learning” and “fake,” has revolutionized our perception of image and sound authenticity in the digital world. Its development, gaining momentum at the turn of the second decade of the 21st century, relies on sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithms to create or modify video and audio content to appear realistic, despite being entirely fabricated.

Initially associated with harmless applications, such as internet memes or face-swapping in movies and photos for amusement, it quickly became apparent that this technology carries significant ethical and social implications. The ability to produce convincing false materials, where public figures say or do things they never did, has opened the door to information manipulation, disinformation, and privacy violations.

Recently, deepfake has become a focal point of debates concerning national security, election integrity, information authenticity, and privacy protection. While this technology offers fascinating possibilities in entertainment, education, and even healthcare, its potential negative applications, such as creating false evidence or cyberbullying, have raised concerns.

In response to growing apprehensions, the world is seeking ways to combat the negative aspects of deepfake, developing tools to detect and prevent the spread of false content. However, as the technology becomes more sophisticated, the race between creating and detecting deepfakes seems endless, challenging our ability to distinguish truth from fiction in an increasingly digital world.

Does Deepfake Steal Through Personal Branding, Like Mark Zuckerberg’s?

Meta, where are you? The customer service and response to violations reported on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter could fill several books. The strategy of major tech giants is typical of digital dinosaurs. Many still believe Facebook is a small company run by a friendly teenager. Mark Zuckerberg, the boy next door in a gray T-shirt, always smiling and amiable. However, by 2023, Meta Platforms Inc. (Facebook) reported revenues of $134.9 billion, with a net profit of $39.1 billion, marking a 69% increase. The company employed 67,317 people at the year’s end. It’s a global corporation, not a small hosting company from Poland, aspiring for full digitalization of its community service processes. Here, there’s no reliance on national hotlines and friendly consultants for a chat about life. Moreover, Meta carries the original sin of many American corporations: focusing solely on the USA, with the rest of the world considered mere “colonies” where customer experience is significantly less important than under the Californian sun. Only the wagons of advertising revenues, like colonial ships of spices, matter as they dock at the Port of Los Angeles. Corporations like Meta or LinkedIn lack a true European marketing department, not to mention local country support. They’re largely commercial structures aimed at exploiting markets rather than developing them, making it difficult to find specific individuals responsible for customer service quality or emergencies. For many marketers, this may seem unimaginable, but that’s how it operates.

Houston, we have a problem

Do Meta and Mark Zuckerberg remember this story? In August 2013, a Palestinian named Khalil discovered a flaw in Facebook’s privacy security. The issue allowed bypassing settings to post any content on someone’s private wall. Khalil reported this bug through the Bug Bounty program, which is intended to reward Facebook users for identifying software issues. Unfortunately, he failed to convince the security team of the problem’s existence and severity and was turned down, likely in line with some corporate procedure. However, Khalil did not give up and reacted like Chuck Norris—with a roundhouse kick. He proved his point by posting his complaint directly on Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook profile. The response time was measured in minutes. Facebook took an immediate interest in the difficulty. Eventually, the bug was fixed, but Khalil was denied the bounty, justified by a violation of the program’s rules. Predictably, the Palestinian announced he would sooner sell another bug on the black market than report it to Facebook. Unfortunately, from Silicon Valley’s perspective, the thought process about other countries is partially different from in Europe.

Deepfake of Rafał Brzoska

There’s this Polish entrepreneur named Rafał Brzoska. He’s best known as the founder and CEO of InPost, famed for establishing a network of self-service parcel lockers across Poland, which propelled him onto the list of the wealthiest Poles. In 2021, with a fortune valued at 5.7 billion PLN, he ranked seventh on Forbes magazine’s list. Brzoska stands as one of the strongest personal brands among entrepreneurs in Poland, actively engaging in social media. In March, a deepfake video featuring him, encouraging investing in ‘castles in the air,’ surfaced online. Reports from Poland reached Meta. Little happened.

For Meta’s operators and its algorithms, Rafał is just some middle-aged man speaking an incomprehensible language from a distant country. In California, it’s just another video uploaded to the internet. It contains neither nudity nor terrorists. So, what’s the issue?

Here lies the problem. If a deepfake of Mark Zuckerberg went viral globally, encouraging investments with Jordan Belfort, even Leonardo DiCaprio might be surprised. Or what if Mark Zuckerberg promoted Bernie Madoff? Bernie Madoff was an American financier and financial criminal who confessed to operating the largest financial fraud in history, estimated at 65 billion dollars. He was a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange. Madoff died on April 14, 2021. Until the end, he believed he was only robbing the rich.

Greed is Not OK

The famous words “greed, lacking a better word, is good” originate from the character Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas, in the 1987 film “Wall Street.” In his speech, Gekko argues that greed serves as an evolutionary drive and is essential for progress. A year earlier, during an inaugural lecture at the University of California, Berkeley, on May 18, 1986, the statement was made: “Greed is alright! Greed is okay. I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” These words were spoken by Ivan Boesky. Exactly 19 months later, on December 18, 1987, he went to prison. On that day, this financial speculator was sentenced to three years in prison for illegally earning 50 million dollars. Previously, he was praised as a financial genius in various media outlets and was constantly invited to speak at conferences, seminars, universities, and colleges.

In digital corporations today, the challenge of reporting and combating deepfakes is a serious one. Deepfakes are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as was the case with the perfect video of an eagle snatching a child in a park. Meta, you still have much work to do to become a global brand 5.0.

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