Advances in video editing enable fraudsters, pranksters or criminals to create videos that portray people doing things they never did or saying words they never said. The videos can dub words on speakers or replace an image of someone’s head with another person. Until recently, only university researchers experimented with the videos, but free or low-cost tools for producing the fakes are now becoming widely available.
Worrying that deepfakes threaten national security and the 2020 elections, congressmen have asked the director of national intelligence to prepare a report to Congress. Left unchecked, deepfake videos can disrupt campaigns, encourage extremism, sow discord, and undermine democratic discourse, warns Lisa Kaplan, former digital director for Angus King’s successful re-election campaign the U.S. Senate in Maine.
Just as importantly, the doctored videos may pose the greatest challenge yet to corporate reputations. Extremists or criminals could create a fake video of a CEO making sexist or racist comments or offering a bribe. They could post fake videos on fake news sites and disseminate them on social media, just as they’ve been spreading fake political news.
Corporate leaders and communications personnel will have trouble convincing the public that a video isn’t real. As deepfakes become more common, businesses may also have difficulty convincing people that real videos are indeed real.
Many PR and communications pros have added plans for handling fake news about their organizations. Corporations will need to include deepfakes in their PR crisis management and reputation management plans. They’ll need to continuously monitor websites and social media, create triage plans for possible actions, and recruit supporters who can rebut misinformation.
How to Combat Deepfake Videos
Political campaigns and corporate communications professionals can protect themselves against deepfakes by applying the steps that Kaplan of the King campaign advises in an article for the Brookings Institution.
Video for the record. Record video of executives and other company spokespeople at public speaking engagements. Communications personnel can provide that raw footage to the media and the public to expose any deepfake videos from the event.
Turn to supporters. A campaign or corporation can turn to its supporters to rebut fake news. Corporations and other organizations can develop relationships with potential advocates, including employees, customers, social media followers, who can report and refute doctored videos and other forms of misinformation.
Analyze posts and mentions. Review social media posts that mention the company and brands. Determine if content was posted and shared by inauthentic accounts.
Understand algorithms. Understand how social media algorithms work and how they can be manipulated against you. Flag posts that receive abnormally high engagement in a coordinated manner, such as scores of shares within a second after posting. Consider reporting those suspicious posts to the social media network for investigation. The major social media platforms are sensitive to the issue of deepfakes and fake news and often take action to correct problems.
Devise a triage plan. The course of action of finding a fake news or deepfake video depends on the likelihood that the fake content will reach the public and key audiences and its potential impact on your organization. Weigh the legitimacy of the information source and if coordinated behavior is spreading the deepfake video or fake news. If the chances that misinformation will spread and its possible impact is low, doing nothing is often the best option.
“It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes it is best to ignore disinformation,” Kaplan says. “If a false news story is written but no one reads it, the campaign drawing attention to the story could increase the story’s reach.”
Medium danger calls for refuting misinformation with the help of supporters and spreading positive messages about the organization.
The most dangerous threats call for rebutting the falsehood in addition to public statements and demands for retraction.
Get to know the networks. Develop a line of communication with social media platforms as early as possible. That makes it easier to report accounts that violate their community standards.
More Ways to Respond to Deepfakes
Monitor all media. A major political campaign has an army of supporters who can report fake videos or fake news reports. Most organizations lack that kind of staff. Businesses, celebrities, politicians and non-profit organizations can identify misinformation or propaganda campaigns by employing a media monitoring service that alerts them when fake news sites mention their brands, products or other selected keywords.
Consider human analysts. Automated monitoring and measurement software may not be able to detect a fake news story. That may require human reviewers and analysts who are knowledgeable about the organization and its products. The content analysis to identify fake news stories could be outsourced to the media monitoring service or done by the organization’s own staff.
Invest in technology. Investments in technology that detects video forgeries cannot wait. Experts predict a technological arms race between creators of fake videos and those trying to spot and debunk the forgeries before they spread widely on social media. Social media analytics will provide a critical weapon, predict experts writing in the Harvard Business Journal.
Pressure social networks. Companies can form coalitions to pressure social platforms to invest in technologies to identify deepfakes. If needed, they can withhold advertising to spur action. “Pushing these platforms to take the future of misinformation seriously would be good not only for corporations but also for society at large,” write experts in the Harvard Business Journal.
Bottom Line: Besides posing a serious threat to national security and American democracy, deepfake videos create major corporate reputational risks. Experts recommend that brands start taking precautions immediately and prepare plans to respond to deepfake video attacks.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.