Deep fakes are weird, they’re pervasive, and they’re getting worse. The digital public is already wary of reality, and with this new assault, it’s likely we’ll break from it altogether. Jordan B. Peterson was spoofed on a deep fake, as was Mark Zuckerberg. Victims of this practice also include random women who end up doctored into porn videos. Deep fakes are more insidious than something like doctored videos or photos because they use AI and deep machine learning to not alter existing reality but to create an alternate one.
The way deep fakes are made possible through the use of a GAN, a general adversarial network. Introduced in a paper at the University of Montreal in 2014, GANs are basically two neural nets that learn from each other through challenging each other to get better. The two neural nets can be defined as the maker and the investigator, and all are in service to the puppeteer, the human being who intends to create the fake for whatever purpose they have. The maker submits a proxy, the investigator counters it for flaws.
For example, NotJordanPeterson.com was a website where users could plug in any content they wanted and have it spit back at them in the voice of Jordan B. Peterson. The actual Peterson was rightly disturbed and the owners took the site down. The way the site worked was the maker algorithm would create the audio, and the investigator algorithm would counter with information about how it can tell it’s a fake, prompting the maker algorithm to try again, and repeat. Peterson’s cadence, pronunciation, accent, common word usage, would be interrogated by the investigative side, and then adjusted by the maker side, until accuracy is achieved.
So if you had used NotJordanPeterson.com to create a clip of Jordan B. Peterson talking about how great Human Rights Tribunals are, or how much he likes strawberry froyo, or simply to whisper inappropriate things to you, it would have sounded super realistic because it would have been Peterson’s voice talking the way Peterson talks about things Peterson probably would never say in public, which is of course why he got pissed off.
The Linear Digressions podcast got into GANs and deep fakes: “the technology, in general, has been pretty democratized in the sense that you don’t have to be an AI graduate student to be able to use some of this software, it’s just like floating around out there. And… there are definitely people who are researching how good the GANs are… so even if we can sort of tell the difference right now, they’re improving so much that that’s not something that’s going to be maintained for very long. So at this point, it looks like for some of the better algorithms out there the only way that you can detect which ones are fake is not with humans but with algorithms that are specially trained to pick out the ones that are fake.”
Algorithms are being used to create fake realities that humans cannot distinguish from actual reality and only other algorithms can tell apart. We are smart enough to create computer programs to alter reality to the point where we don’t know what’s real and what’s fake, and stupid enough to make sure only way to tell the difference is by employing another computer program. The more advanced we are the more ridiculous our predicament with reality.
Speaking to the 1A podcast, Rachel Thomas, founder of Fast AI, brought up another aspect of the problem. If we don’t believe what our content tells us, then even real content can be questioned. “The more and more that we see deep fakes spread, and then we educate people, that you can’t believe what your eyes are telling you, then if they don’t realize, also that people can sort of leverage the phenomenon, and say ‘y’know that genuine video that shows me committing a crime? Well sure, that’s a fake, that’s not real.’ If we don’t have people on guard to recognize that as well, the misuse of the deep fake phenomenon to run away from reality, that, too, leads us to this nihilistic place where we say ‘there are no truths.'”
This wouldn’t be the first time that people have arrived at the place where we think ‘there are no truths,’ where we can’t tell the difference between fact and fiction, and where we look at reality with total skepticism. Writing in the 17th century, Irish philosopher Georges Berkeley looked at reality as though it might not have any existence outside the minds of people. He wrote that ideas and sensations do not exist independent of a mind to perceive them, but that those things which cause the ideas and sensations do objectively exist.
In A Treatise concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge, he wrote: “Ideas imprinted on the senses are ‘real’ things, or do really exist: this we do not deny; but we deny they can subsist without the minds which perceive them, or that they are resemblances or archetypes existing without the mind; since the very being of a sensation or idea consists in being perceived, and an idea can be like nothing but an idea.– Again, the things perceived but sense may be termed ‘external,’ with regard to their origin, in that they are not generated from within by the mind itself, but imprinted by a Spirit distinct from that which perceives them.– Sensible objects may likewise be said to be ‘without the mind’ in another sense, namely when they exist in some other mind; thus, when I shut my eyes, the thing I saw may still exist, but it must be in another mind.”
With the emergence of deep fakes, a totally altered yet believable reality, Berkeley’s hypothesis has been proven. The fake exists, but it being a reality only exists in our minds. Is there a difference between a perceived reality that everyone agrees is real and the actual, independent reality? In some respect, once the deep fake is created and understood to be part of reality, isn’t it as real as real life? This is the problem. Deep fake content looks as real as real content, and when it confirms our perspective, instead of invalidating it, we are more likely to believe it.
The problem with deep fakes speaks to issues of defamation, libel, and slander. There are low stakes deep fakes, like showing Trump eating an ice cream, or altering entertainment content, or some fan fic type stuff, but there is also the realm of the high stakes deep fake. For women, this can all be boiled down to one word: porn. Deep fake porn is like revenge porn on steroids. A deep fake machine learning GAN can put together a woman’s face, voice, mannerisms with a porn video to show her looking like she really and truly engaged in that content. The consequences of this video being publicized could damage her reputation, cost her a job, humiliate family and children, and cause her deep embarrassment when she realizes how many people saw her doing this thing. It would be a hard image to erase from the imagination, never mind the boundless memory banks of the infinite world wide web.
In essence, the phenomenon of deep fakes asks us how much control we are willing to relinquish in the understanding of reality. It may be that we never had much, but with the emergence of deep fakes, we have even less. Entering into a hellscape where we can believe neither our eyes nor any of our senses in determining what is real poses problems that we are not ready for, from the understanding of actual facts to the ability to discern actual fiction. From now on, what we make of reality is up to each of us alone, and we better get it right.
Tech ethicists have been sounding the alarm about deepfakes for some time now, and tech think tank Future Advocacy has decided to show just how possible and damaging this tech can be. They’ve released a fake campaign video that shows the two candidates for the coming U.K. election endorsing each other.
Rationally, we know that Jeremy Corbyn and Boris Johnson would not actually endorse each other for the office they both covet, yet our eyes deceive us when we view a video like this. In the hands of Future Advocacy, the video is revealed to be a fake. But this tech could be used by bad actors to disrupt elections all over the world.
Unlike the magician who guards his sleight of hand with care, Future Advocacy reveals how the trick was turned. First, they choose the source video, that clip that they would use to as the base image and movement of the person they are going to fake. Then they parse the words the person most uses, and write the script that sounds like what the person would say. After that, the voice is laid in, and aligned with the movements.
Last month, the U.S. Senate passed the Deepfake Report Act, that “would require the Department of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deepfake technology that would be required to include an assessment of how both foreign governments and domestic groups are using deepfakes to harm national security.”
The Senate became more concerned about the problem earlier this year when a parody video of Nancy Pelosi was released that made her look drunk. This video was not actually a deep fake, but an actual video slowed down to make her appear sluggish. But it was enough to strike fear into the hearts of legislators.
While the Deepfake Report Act is a step toward trying to understand how the tech is used, what is still needed are the tools on how to detect it. Facebook, ever in the spotlight when it comes to hating on big tech, has dedicated $10 million to the study of deepfakes.
The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has been researching deep fakes, learning first how to make them, so that they can learn how to detect them. The creation of deep fakes is entirely dependent on computer analysis, and as is the detection of the fakes.
It’s a good bet that while Future Advocacy and the Pentagon are working on both raising awareness and figure out how to combat this problem, respectively, those who would sow the seeds of chaos around the world are working just as hard to make them undetectable.
The very concept of reality is under threat. Libel and defamation laws could punish those who would legit make faked campaign videos such as the one conjured by Future Advocacy. But where does that leave us with regard to those videos that go undetected? Even when a video, as the slurred Pelosi one, was proved to be false, the damage was already done. That clip went viral before anyone even raised a question, probably even before Pelosi saw it herself.
Even more recently, friends of the Royals have floated the theory that the infamous photo of Prince Andrew with his 17-year-old accuser, Virginia Roberts Giuffre is “doctored” and that “his fingers look too chubby.”
Giuffre responded by saying “This photo has been verified as an original and it’s been since given to the FBI and they’ve never contested that it’s a fake. I know it’s real. He needs to stop with all of these lame excuses. We’re sick of hearing it. This is a real photo. That’s the very first time I met him.”
As illustrated by this recent example, the implications go beyond fooling voters. Allegations of deep-fakery could be used to cover up crimes or in other cases, falsely implicate people in crimes.
If the goal of those who make deepfakes is to create chaos and confusion in the U.S. and the U.K., they are proving that they are already capable of achieving success. We must maintain our vigilance, good humour, and wariness of everything that flickers across our screens. However, this wariness, this inability to trust trusted sources, is the chaos, confusion, and disorder that bad actors have engendered. When we don’t know who to trust, when we can’t believe our own eyes, when every conceivable source of data and information needs to be interrogated, where does that leave us?
In many ways, humans make snap judgements. Perhaps it’s a remnant of a survival instinct, a fight or flight impulse. But thinking on our feet, making quick determinations, is how we get through life. We do not question everything, because there is simply not enough time in the day. If we find that we are unable to trust new sources of information, we may lock down our views, solidify them, and begin to believe that anything that contradicts them is false.
The hardest part, for each individual, in addressing and dealing with this emerging technology, is not knowing what incoming data to trust. This means that when we read or see something that confirms a view we hold dear, we should question it, antagonize it, investigate it. We need to make sure we know why we believe what we believe, and not assume truth just because it feels right (or wrong) to us. As deepfakes threaten our reality in every aspect from education to crime to democracy, we must remain aware of what is being thrown at us. If not, it’s going to knock us over.
#MeToo had rules. At least we thought so. Culturally, societally, politically, we all tried to learn them, to internalize them, to understand just what types of incidents could get a person ejected from their life, tossed out of their social group, ostracized from friends, unemployable, unpersoned. The rules seemed almost clear—until suddenly those who seem to be in charge of them don’t even follow their own logic anymore.
Katie Hill had an affair with a junior staffer, another woman, who feels that she was victimized. By the rules of #MeToo, that would dictate that Hill loses it all, right? Only somehow, it’s being spun the other way, by the same publications that brought us diatribes against Al Franken. Hill, it turns out, can also claim victim status at the hands of her ex, who was the one who released the information about the affair. In her resignation speech, Hill echoed Franken’s sentiments, that it seems absurd that she should be resigning when a guy like Trump is in the White House.
To recap: the wronged party is not the spouse, not the junior staffer, but the powerful person at the center of it. While it is true that Hill was the victim of revenge porn, and that is not acceptable, the same principle did not apply to Anthony Weiner or Joe Barton. It does not immunize her from her own wrongdoing.
“The squad” of freshmen congresswomen supported her during her recent tribulation. Nancy Pelosi, and other senior members of Congress, apparently wished that “Hill had been more careful in transmitting her private photos.”
Hill was given far more leeway in terms of the vocal and press lashing that other members of Congress who have found themselves exposed for sexual misconduct have faced. It turns out that she is being supported, not harassed and harangued. A staffer for Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-TX 29th), said, “A lot of the show of support was done intimately and privately with Hill, out of respect for her. … People didn’t want to be adding to the noise. We didn’t want to make press out of the pain and suffering she’s been through. She had private images published without her consent that have caused incredible pain.” Weiner did too, but no one had any sympathy for him at all.
The thing is, and yeah, we hate to be those people, but we can so easily imagine the reverse scenario. Here it is: a dashing young first-term congressman has an affair with a staffer years younger. He takes drugs, advertises his sexual availability on dating apps, and drags his wife into a threesome with the junior staffer. When the marriage breaks up—perhaps as a result of this kind of rampant infidelity, after all, they weren’t openly poly or ethically non-monogamous—the wife releases the dirt on the congressman to the world. She wants people to know just what kind of guy this is, how he is a liar and a cheater, a womanizer, and abuser, unfit to be in Congress. What then? Why she’s a hero, of course, and he’s a villainous letch.
Haven’t we heard this story before? Why is it so different now? Is Hill really a victim of her own sexual dalliances? Are we to believe that a woman who is strong enough to run and win a congressional campaign is so easy to bully? Perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, readers, perhaps we don’t truly understand the nature of abuse or something, but what we do understand, what is perfectly clear, is that we’re supposed to believe all women, even when she is the abuser. We’re supposed to imagine that there is some substantive difference in how the rules are to be applied to men and women in the same deleterious circumstances.
Now, we’re the first to admit that the rules are stupid. That this game of pointing fingers and shaming people is nonsensical and barbaric is not something we doubt. But if there are going to be rules that we are all expected to play by, ought they not be, well, adhered to?
If #MeToo is meant to be the new standard that we all must bow down to, and it’s a given that men and women are equal, then we must apply the rules fairly, and everyone who has a complicated sexual relationship that leads to grievances must be punished. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could do away with this nonsense and start to see the human beings for what they are: flawed, complicated, and capable of cruelty and kindness.
#MeToo may have been an effective corrective in some situations, but it should never have risen to the level of an era. As it stands now, we are living through a “cultural context where common vengeance writes the law,” and the hypocrisy is destroying us. If the rules don’t apply the same way for everyone, perhaps the rules are the problem.
An antifa activist with a history of violence and threatening behaviour across the Pacific Northwest has been arrested on a felony hate crime charge in Seattle for alleged anti-Semitic attacks.
Jamal Oscar Williams, 44, is accused by state prosecutors in Washington state of hate crimes and criminal harassment against Schmuel Levitin, a rabbi, and Ephriam Block. According to court documents, Williams “maliciously and intentionally” followed, threatened to kill and assaulted the men in multiple attacks in October because of their perceived religion.
Levitin and Block were operating a permitted religious booth for the Sukkot Jewish holiday in downtown Seattle on October 11 when Williams allegedly approached them and shouted: “Jews, Jews, Jews … give me your money!” He then said he had a gun and was going to kill them. Both Levitin and Block have beards and payots, or sideburns, and were wearing yarmulkes. Levitin is a rabbi at the Chabad of Downtown Seattle.
Three days later, Williams returned and made similar threats and demands for money. On October 15, the next day, Williams allegedly followed the men into the lobby of their apartment building. After making more demands for money, he allegedly hurled candy from the concierge’s desk at the men. Police later found and arrested Williams in a nearby-area. He was unarmed at the time.
Jamal Williams is known in the Pacific Northwest for his involvement in various antifa protests and his outspoken views on black nationalism. In August 2018, he was arrested in Seattle during a counter-protest against right-wing group Patriot Prayer. Last November, he threatened this journalist with death outside Seattle City Hall at a counter-demonstration against a conservative group.
More recently, Williams was in Portland, Oregon on August 17 where he was recorded accosting people aggressively during an antifa protest-turned-riot against the Proud Boys. He was also part of a group of people who surrounded and threatened to hurt a reporter with the Washington Examiner.
“He threatened me multiple times,” Julio Rosas said. “It spoke volumes when Portland Police pulled me away and said I was provoking Williams and others, when it was Williams who was acting in a very aggressive manner.”
Williams was later arrested by Portland Police for disorderly conduct. He did not show up to his court hearing in September and there is a bench warrant for his arrest.
In addition to Williams’ radical political activism with antifa, he has a long history of criminal and harassing behaviour. In Washington state, he was convicted in 2015 for felony harassment and domestic violence. He has multiple other convictions for assault and domestic violence going back years. He also has a long violent criminal record in Alaska, where he used to live.
Williams is currently incarcerated on a $100,000 bond in King County, Washington for the hate crime charge.
'They treat my autistic son like a caged animal': student takes college to court over Title IX ruling
Marcus Knight—a student with autism and cerebral palsy—will come face to face with the Title IX officer who found him guilty of two Title IX sexual misconduct violations later this month as he takes his college to court in an attempt to clear his name.
Knight first came to my attention in 2018 after his attempts to make friends landed him in the school’s Title IX office, not just once but twice. According to the lawsuit, Marcus Knight asked one female student for a fist-bump, and another for a selfie.
While these may seem trivial, two female students at Saddleback College were so uncomfortable with Knight’s attempts to make friends that they reported him to the Title IX office, with one student claiming Knight made her “uncomfortable.”
But what’s caused two years of “absolute heartbreak,” according to Knight’s mother, is how the Title IX officer handled the accusations.
Considering Knight’s disability, both students decided not to follow-through with any charges. After one female thought Knight was stalking her and was uncomfortable with fist-bumps, the school reported:
“She understands this is part of his disability and [that Marcus Knight] only wants to make friends and that no harm is intended.” In due course, her complaint was resolved by mediation between Knight, his mother, and the school’s Title IX office.
Later, student Naomi Bueno Rojo reported Knight for “following her around campus,” “[invading her] personal space,” and that he tried to “put her hand on [his] thigh.” It’s unclear why Rojo felt the need to involve the Title IX office.
She reportedly felt “no fear” from Knight, and did not request disciplinary action.
Student Melissa Gold also took Knight to the Title IX office.
Gold claimed Marcus took more than 300 photos with her. According to Aurora Knight, his mother, Marcus has a tic that caused him to press the camera button multiple times with burst mode on.
Later, Gold left Saddleback College. When the Title IX officer reacher her for comment, Gold said “This is irrelevant to my life right now. I don’t care what happens officially at this point.”
Again, this was another instance of Marcus Knight, who has autism, cerebral palsy, and multiple learning disabilities, simply trying to have some sort of semblance of friendship among his peers at college by taking selfies and trying to talk to people.
At the time, 2018, Juan Avalos was the school’s Title IX counsellor. Though Avalos does not seem to have formal as a Title IX law training, Avalos nonetheless investigated and adjudicated Knight’s case.
Despite that no students formally testified against Knight, he was still found guilty.
The Post Millennial asked the college, Juan Avalos, and the California Community College system if Avalos had training in adjudicating Title IX matters. We also asked if he had any training to deal with students with disabilities. No response.
According to the lawsuit, Knight was never offered a fair hearing, an opportunity to respond to the evidence, and Knight did not have enough time to gather information to defend himself.
Further, the school’s “single-investigator model,” during which Avalos collected evidence, interviewed students and subsequently disciplined Knight is unlawful under California code, according to the lawsuit.
In fact, it’s unsure why Avalos was even appointed to deal with Title IX cases. According to his online resume, he has no relevant experience in dealing with victims of sexual assault, Title IX training certifications, or any training to deal with students with disabilities.
He is simply the Vice President of Student Services. That department encompasses everything from financial aid to diversity programs.
While it’s understandable that admins of small colleges may wear multiple hats, it goes without saying that each person should be trained for their role, especially when they have the power to suspend and expel.
Going forward, Marcus and Aurora Knight have been “left in the dark.” by Saddleback. Knight will eventually apply to transfer to a four-year school, but it’s unclear how and if his record of sexual misconduct will follow him.
For now, Knight can only visit campus when supervised. This semester, Knight takes four classes, and will need to pass about six more to complete his associates degree. Despite his limited language abilities, Knight loves music and sings in his local church and school choir. His goal is a BA in Musical Theater.
The student’s mother says she’s “confused and frustrated.”
“I asked for papers from Saddleback multiple times asking if anything is removed [from his record] and I haven’t heard anything back yet,” Aurora Knight told The Post Millennial by phone.
“Why won’t they just be honest? They are treating my son like a caged animal. But he is utterly harmless.”
“He had no issues prior to college, at all,” his mother said.
Marcus Knight is represented by Mark Hathaway, a Title IX lawyer who has helped over 100 students fight for justice. The hearing is set for November 18, 2019.
“We believe that Saddleback College failed to comply with the law and their own policy in improperly disciplining Marcus Knight and no sanctions should ever have been imposed against him,” Hathaway told The Post Millennial.
Aurora—a single mother and immigrant from Italy—has created a GoFundMe to help cover her son’s legal expenses.
“My family has been robbed of two first years in college, my son’s dreams have crashed, his confidence is destroyed… Marcus has no idea who he can trust and who he must fear… he doesn’t know who is a friend or even how to make friends.”
“Marcus wants to face Juan Avalos in court. He wants the opportunity to state the facts and clear his name.”
The Post Millennial called Knight and asked what he thinks. He gave us three words: “I am innocent.”
This is an ongoing story. All parties named in the story were given multiple opportunities to provide comment but did not respond.
Toni Airaksinen is a Columnist at PJ Media, The Post Millennial, and a social media strategist for kosher restaurants in Brooklyn, NYC. She graduated from Barnard College in 2018. She has also been a contributor to USA TODAY College, Quillette Magazine, The Daily Caller and the NY Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen.