Since I wrote about the creation and weaponization of deepfake videos in October 2020, the situation worsened. Earlier this month, several European mayors received video calls from Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv. These calls turned out to be imitations, generated by scammers. The Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey was one such recipient and told reporters that the person on those calls looked and sounded like Klitschko, but he was not an actual participant. When authorities in Berlin checked with their ambassador, they were told that Klitschko was not calling him. False appeals to other mayors in Europe have since been found by journalists.
Were these calls deepfakes?
Hard to say with certainty. A German report claims that the images were simply copied and not computer generated. But regardless of the techniques used, wrong wrong are clearly getting better and more pernicious. The The FBI recently issued this warningsaying they are used to applying for remote job interviews.
It’s unclear why anyone would bother to make and fake these calls, other than wasting a lot of time. Our 2020 blog post mentions other reasons, such as criminal intent or revenge, but none of these scenarios seem to fit. And unfortunately, the situation is such that they can be relatively easy to build, especially if you’re making a video call to someone who doesn’t know you very well or isn’t paying attention to double-check the call.
Late 2021, Shelly Palmer catalog the different algorithms that may be used to produce these videos, and this most recent list add a few more. This explanatory video shows you the steps involved, not that you should try for yourself.
A blog post I read about the ethics of “synthetic media” (i.e. what people who write deepfake algorithms call their work product to make it more legit) compared the deepfake world with the introduction of the Kodak camera 130 years ago. At the time, people were concerned about the manipulation of images by novice photographers and whether we could use photos to show anything other than the literal, “real” state of the world. Doomsday scenarios didn’t materialize back then, and as you know by now, we’re all walking around with digital cameras with multiple lenses and built-in effect filters that were previously only found on equipment high-end professionals.
As I mentioned in 2020, social media is not helping the situation, and what used to take days or weeks to reach a viral notice is now rapidly amplified in hours or even minutes. Unfortunately, social platforms haven’t really taken a leadership position or improved to be more proactive in detecting and removing deepfakes.
Mayor-to-mayor video calls are a warning to all of us not to accept things without proper verification, especially when it comes to well-known (or semi-known) individuals. Beware and check before taking any particular action.