IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - December 2019 - 8

Fukuyama [11] proposed the "end of
history," that globally nation states
would generally be governed and
organized around the principles of
liberal democracy. While that outcome is yet to materialize, given
the opportunity, most people would
prefer to live in a liberal democracy.
But the progressive values of a liberal democracy include tolerance,
inclusivity, environmentalism, social
justice, etc., rather than tax cuts
and self-enrichment. In such a context, the only way for the political
right to succeed is to be both utterly
shameless and completely reckless.
However, a side effect of such recklessness is that satire becomes a
relatively ineffective tool of critique
and dissent: it is very difficult to ridicule someone when they themselves
propose policies or make statements
that are more outlandish than the
imagination of a satirical sketch.
Furthermore, this is where the
baleful influence of deepfake videos becomes most apparent. If what
is fake can be made to be seen as
real, then the unfortunate corollary is: what is real can be made to
be seen as fake. Consequently, any
real announcement of some ludicrous or irresponsible new policy,
which is jettisoned on its first brush
with reality, could be dismissed, by
those who were determined to do
so, as a deepfake; as the poet nearly
said: with confirmation bias, the
gods themselves contend in vain.
This psychological disposition, in
conjunction with a lack of accountability, could reduce political discourse to the level of a playground
"he said, she said" exchange, i.e.,
a pointless dispute over facts, not
a constructive negotiation over evidence-based policies for prioritizing
shared values based on an agreement of the facts [12].
The recklessness and shamelessness that diminishes the potency of
satire as a tool of political dissent

8

While educational, technological,
and legal routes do offer partial solutions, ultimately, any defense has to
include political will. The responsibility rests firstly with those would seek
public office to disavow the use of
deepfake videos; and secondly, with
an informed electorate who would
have nothing to do with the kind
of shameless power-grabbing charlatans who will not accept citizens
using satire to speak truth unto their
power, nor will they speak truth unto
their own citizens.

has become so widespread, and so
commonplace, that it could almost
be seen as a willful, intentiona l
strateg y: aided and abetted by
misuse of deepfake videos, the
strategy amounts to an attack on
civic discourse that could be reasonably termed the deliberate denial of
satire (DDoS).

Defense Against DDoS
How can satire be reclaimed in such a
context? It is by no means clear that
educational programs that encourage citizens to be cynical about everything they see on the Internet would
be so helpful: there is a difference
between critical thinking and automatic gainsaying. The erosion of public trust that follows from individual
doubt could lead to each citizen having a selective, personal interpretation of "reality," and there being
no intrasubjective reality. Yet such a
lack of common knowledge diminishes opportunities for successful
collective action [4].
Similarly, an entirely technological
solution will not provide a panacea
by itself: although computational
solutions to provenance and tampering are possible [13], as with cybersecurity, there will be an ongoing
"algorithmic arms race" between the
fakers and those trying to expose
the fakes [8].
A legal solution would have some
potency, but a purely legal solution
runs the risk of unintended consequences and creating a new class of
criminal offense out of legal activities. Image manipulation is as old
as time, and as discussed, using
such images for satirical purposes serves an important civic function. Trying to discriminate between
"legitimate" satire and deepfake
malfeasance is, perhaps, more likely to lead to legislation enforcing a
blanket prohibition, which would, of
course, be the preferred position for
satire-denialists.
IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

Author Information
Jeremy Pitt is Professor of Intelligent and Self-Organizing Systems
at Imperial College London, U.K.
Email: j.pitt@imperial.ac.uk.

References

[1] L. Gilkey, Shantung Compound: The
Story of Men and Women Under Pressure. Harper & Row, 1975.
[2] E. Ostrom, Governing the Commons:
The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1990.
[3] J. Ober, Demopolis: Democracy Before
Liberalism in Theory and Practice. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2017.
[4] J. Ober, Democracy and Knowledge.
Princeton Univ. Press, 2008.
[5] M. Geisler, Ed., National Symbols, Fractured Identities: Contesting the National
Narrative. Middlebury College Press, 2005.
[6] W. Frassanito, Gettysburg: A Journey
in Time. Thomas, 1996.
[7] I. Goodfellow, J. Pouget-Abadie, M. Mirza,
B. Xu, D. Warde-Farley, S. Ozair, A. Courville and Y. Bengio, "Generative adversarial
networks," in Proc. Int. Conf. Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS), 2014,
pp. 2672-2680.
[8] S. Parkin, "The rise of the deepfake
and the threat to democracy," The Guardian, Jun. 22, 2019; https://www.theguardian
.com/technology/ng-interactive/2019/
jun/22/the-rise-of-the-deepfake-and-the
-threat-to-democracy.
[9] N. Davies, Flat Earth News. Vintage
Books, 2009.
[10] E. Conway and N. Oreskes, The Merchants of Doubt. Bloomsbury, 2010.
[11] F. Fukuyama, The End of History and
The Last Man. Free Press, 1992.
[12] J. Pitt, "Facts, policies, and values - The
democratic triad," IEEE Technology and
Society. Mag., vol. 38, no. 1, pp. 5-8, 2019.
[13] D. Runciman, How Democracy Ends.
Profile, 2018.

∕

DECEMBER 2019


https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2019/jun/22/the-rise-of-the-deepfake-and-the-threat-to-democracy https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2019/jun/22/the-rise-of-the-deepfake-and-the-threat-to-democracy https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ng-interactive/2019/jun/22/the-rise-of-the-deepfake-and-the-threat-to-democracy

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