The new year started with some good news. From the beginning of January, Facebook announced that it will prohibit publishing and circulation of “deepfakes” videos in which Artificial Intelligence creates false content and places fake information by simulating people on video saying things and sentences they never actually said. Thanks to improved tech that is being used for creation of such videos, it has become increasingly hard to distinguish what was actually said by a particular person from what is only a fake montage – soon we won’t be able to tell the difference. In addition, the number of deepfakes is on the rise to the extent that it has become a phenomenon.
However, following Facebook’s announcement we can sit down and exhale, as the publishing of that content will not be allowed, as truth and justice emerge victorious.
Ok, ok, I will stop with lame jokes for the moment. It is just so unnerving to read news like these and put on a (deep)fake smile. Apologies, my dear Facebook, who you are fucking with here? Let’s assume for a moment that Facebook actually has applicable technology that can precisely identify what is deepfake and what is not, but no technology can recognize what content is dangerous, hateful, inciting violence or negatively impacts upon human rights and civil liberties distinguishing it from the content that is entertainment-based, comedy-oriented and parody-aimed. The issue lies not in the way the content is created, but with the message it puts out into the ether.
The announcement that Facebook made only shows, once again, how their care is never with the content and the message. Just post things, put them out, make them viral and widely shared so that information is accumulated and processed. Facebook will take the stand and claim that it cannot be held accountable for the content. However, if we consider that Facebook is a media platform, then the liability has to be on the platform for the content published.
So, it seems that this announcement is just another addition to the long list of Facebook’s futile attempts to portray itself as a socially responsible company deeply caring for public interest, despite all the harsh critique being thrown at it for evident abuse of privacy of its users.
Whether this was a conscious effort or not, the announcement strikes as a between-the-lines challenge for the deepfake video producers: “let’s see if you can actually trick us with a fake video, without us knowing.”
Sadly, this wasn’t the first time for Facebook to show utter disregard for the content published on its platform. Let’s do a small throwback to a few months ago when Twitter announced on its account that it will not be running political ads anymore. Facebook jumped on the bandwagon and stated that it will continue to publish political ads without verifying the accuracy of the ads on the premise of freedom of speech.
A few days after the announcement in question, Facebook released a new statement re-confirming its stance not to censor political ads running on its platform – in case anyone wondered whether this policy changed in the meantime. All the individuals already perusing the platform to disseminate lies and manipulate the public have been safely reassured that their practices can smoothly continue to run. While we are at it, the said individuals are not just politicians (despite being the frontrunners in the category). As we have entered the presidential election year in the USA, it is good to know that for Facebook it’ll be business as usual.
Afterall, the previous elections four years ago showed the power of social media and the new media world created by the global tech giants influencing and shaping the social climate around the elections.
It is now crystal clear that social media has become a predominant medium that surpasses in reach and influence the traditional media outlets. Coupled with the fact that the functioning of social media remains to be unregulated due to its improper labelling solely as a tech platform and not as a media company as well – all the liability, formally speaking, is on individuals who publish the content. The same problem exists in other industries. For example, Uber radically changed public transport in big cities. At the same time, the company denies any liability for improper behavior of the drivers – including insults or actual physical harm caused to passengers. Uber is justifying its policies based on the fact that they are not a transport company but merely a tech corporation that provides a platform for passengers and drivers to connect. Everything that happens after that and during the ride, is within the sphere of their own responsibility. They further their stance on the fact that platform also enables rating of the user experience from both sides, stimulating the mutual interest of the parties to have a normal ride together.
Here we can see that new tech companies are playing on the global marketplace and have become real behemoths, but there is no global legal framework to regulate that. At the same time, those matters cannot be regulated efficiently on the national state level. In that situation, the rules of the game are decided by the companies themselves and they have no qualms with putting the rules out there and announcing them to the users directly. With regulation on the national level that is having a hard time to cope with the pace of changes and the needs of the public using the platforms, the decision-making process of the global tech giants has surpassed the sphere of business they have been initially put into. This actually means that today there are issues in the public interest being decided exclusively by a limited number of privately held companies.
The decisions of the companies controlling the social media platforms that have become global media platforms are dictated by the private interests of those corporations. This predominantly relates to the profit margins and their dependability on the usage intensity and frequency that allow better and faster data collection and subsequently resale of the data – a model we know oh so well.
This media context has been showing significant results this far. Unlimited and unsanctioned dissemination of false information, media manipulation that in turn floods traditional media outlets and everyday communication that is becoming more deeply rooted in segregation and hate-speech. This deepens the existing conflicts that in return further brutalized the media communication spreading the poisonous virus, closing the circle and creating a vicious loop.
And all this paints the media image for the new decade we have just entered. But no worries, this is just the beginning.