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RNZ – Nine To Noon: Gavin Ellis – On Deepfakes


Nine To Noon – Kathryn Ryan with Gavin Ellis

Media commentator Gavin Ellis speaks to Kathryn about a new study out this morning which says we should resist rushing into new laws to control “deepfakes”. Also, Colin James has just celebrated half a century in the Press Gallery with a characteristically analytical reminisce in the ODT. Gavin Ellis is a media commentator and former editor of the New Zealand Herald. He can be contacted on

Just to assist here is some useful background on ‘deepfakes’ from Foreign Affairs

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is nothing that persuades quite like an audio or video recording of an event. At a time when partisans can barely agree on facts, such persuasiveness might seem as if it could bring a welcome clarity. Audio and video recordings allow people to become firsthand witnesses of an event, sparing them the need to decide whether to trust someone else’s account of it. And thanks to smartphones, which make it easy to capture audio and video content, and social media platforms, which allow that content to be shared and consumed, people today can rely on their own eyes and ears to an unprecedented degree.

Therein lies a great danger. Imagine a video depicting the Israeli prime minister in private conversation with a colleague, seemingly revealing a plan to carry out a series of political assassinations in Tehran. Or an audio clip of Iranian officials planning a covert operation to kill Sunni leaders in a particular province of Iraq. Or a video showing an American general in Afghanistan burning a Koran. In a world already primed for violence, such recordings would have a powerful potential for incitement. Now imagine that these recordings could be faked using tools available to almost anyone with a laptop and access to the Internet—and that the resulting fakes are so convincing that they are impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Advances in digital technology could soon make this nightmare a reality.


This article at the Washington Post is also highly relevant – this extract shows why ‘deepfakes’ are a potential menace

perhaps the larger threat comes from the destruction of democratic accountability. “Because if it is, in fact, the case that almost anything can be faked well, then nothing is real.” Once deepfakes exist, politicians can pretend that any disqualifying behavior has actually been created by a neural network. As we’ve seen in the Trump era, with a highly polarized electorate, millions will believe what they are told by a politician they support, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Most concerning – this suggests to me, that laws to restrict ‘deepfakes’ are highly unlikely to work. The whole concept of real disintegrates, for if what you are shown may be untrue just what is truth or fiction – then can you believe in anything.

One Comment


  1. The Atlantic: Deepfakes – the danger | The Inquiring Mind

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