After our video was released, it reached nearly a million people within weeks. It was circulated on social platforms and community sites, demonstrating the potent combination of synthetic media’s capacity to fool the eyes and social media’s capacity to reach eyeballs. The numbers matched up: In an online quiz, 49 percent of people who visited our site said they incorrectly believed Nixon’s synthetically altered face was real and 65 percent thought his voice was real.
When deepfakes came under the spotlight last year, some media ran with sensational headlines that signaled the “end of news” and “collapse of reality” — but how worried should we be?
The manipulation of media, both creative and nefarious, is not new. Society has long produced media with the capacity to cause harm. Consider Julian Dibbell’s 1993 Village Voice article “A Rape in Cyberspace,” reporting on a traumatic, then new, experience of a woman’s avatar