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Identifying Fake News Video No Easy Feat

Filmmaker Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed created a "deep fake" video of former President Obama to point out the risk of fake videos.

Videos are an effective media known for its power to illicit emotion. And media consumers are learning the hard way that the images don’t have to be real to be convincing.

That’s the point Buzzfeed and filmmaker Jordan Peele recently made while creating a video of former President Barack Obama. This “deep fake” video uses artificial intelligence to alter the appearance and words of of the former president – to make him say some outrageous and profane things.


Daniel Funke is part of the International Fact Checking Project at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. He said luckily videos like the one featuring Obama are still fairly rare because it’s hard to do.

Instead, he said the vast majority of the altered news videos the public is falling for were likely at one point real. They’re just put into a different context. For example, recent videos supposedly showing air strikes in Syria were rehashed videos from 2015, in the Ukraine.

And the purpose behind these videos – and most fake news – isn’t necessarily political. Think greed.

“The goal of these videos is really simple. It’s really to just amass (social media) shares and thereby make advertising revenue by using Facebook’s advertising platform,” he said.

But while Facebook and others acknowledge that fake news is a real danger, the technology doesn’t yet exist to quickly and effectively catch these bad actors, Funke said. Facebook has third-party fact checkers ferreting out written reports that aren’t true – and they are making it harder for those stories masked as journalism to show up in your news feed.

“However, that feature isn’t yet available for videos,” he said. “They only recently rolled it out for memes and images.”

For now, media consumers are left to do their own policing. Funke compiled a list of ways to fact check videos, but the most important, he said, is good old-fashioned skepticism.

“The first thing users can do is really take a step back and doubt things before they share them,” he said. “That helps fact-checkers out a lot.”

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