Deepfakes: Do you know how to spot them?

Artificial intelligence is making it increasingly difficult to tell the real from the phony. Here is what to look for and how to tell the difference.

As artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, it becomes harder to spot a deepfake—a type of synthetic media generated through deep learning algorithms that manipulate or replace audio, video, and images. It also becomes easier to depict something that didn't occur or to make someone appear to say or do something they never did.

“Deepfakes could convince some people of things that are not true,” said Joseph Uscinski, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Miami and an expert on conspiracy theories.

“They could also damage reputations by making people think that someone did something that they did not actually do,” he added. “If people aren’t aware of the technology and what it can do, they may not be on the lookout for it.”

With the potential to deceive and manipulate, deepfakes can contribute to the erosion of trust in media and information sources. They can have the potential to cause harm by inciting violence, damaging relationships, or undermining democratic processes. Additionally, they can be used for fraudulent activities, such as impersonating someone for financial gain or committing identity theft. 

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Review IT resources: Can you spot a deepfake?

How to combat deepfakes 

Scrutinizing the images very carefully is important. While there’s no single tell-tale sign on how to spot a fake, deepfakes often exhibit subtle glitches or unnatural movements in the subject’s face or body. The audio may not sync perfectly with the lip movements, or there may be discrepancies between the subject's voice and their actions. 

Lindsay Grace, associate professor at the School of Communication and Knight Chair in Interactive Media, said deepfakes should be subjected to fact-checking. A consumer of videos should be savvy enough to question and dig into videos they view. 

“As the quality of deepfakes increase, it’s going to be hard to tell the real from the artificial,” Grace pointed out. “It’s important to practice a few proven strategies, [such as] verifying the source. For deepfakes of political figures, newsworthy accounts, or popular content, there are also online resources to check such content.”

Staying well informed is an essential step in combating the spread of deceptive content and safeguarding against potential risks.

Learn how to spot the red flags. Test your deepfake identifying skills.

Using a quiz format, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management has developed a “Detect Fakes” experiment, which asks participants to distinguish between real and AI-created images. Challenge yourself and review these resources for more tips.

If you have any questions, contact the IT Service Desk.