DEEPFAKES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE MURKY – podcast transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group head, Jessica Kingman, and in each episode, I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for 2020. Today, I’m talking with motion graphics group head, Jayr Sotelo, about his trend, Deep Fakes: the Good, the Bad, and the Murky. Hey, Jayr.

Jayr Sotelo
Hey, Jessica, how are you doing?

Jessica Kingman
I’m good. How are you?

Jayr Sotelo
I’m good.

Jessica Kingman
Good. So, for those of us who may be hearing the term for the first time, give us just a little bit of background, what are deepfakes and how are they made currently?

Jayr Sotelo
So, deepfake, the actual term deepfake comes from deep machine learning, which is when you feed a machine or a group of machines a large amount of database. In this case, it’s like a person’s face. And then fake because you’re taking this kind of like database of images, videos, voice as well, and then faking something. Right. And so that’s kind of the technical explanation, if you would. So does that do it?

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, that’s a perfect answer. And I’m interested in just a little bit of your perspective on why you think deepfakes are kind of having a moment right now, why are they infiltrating the culture, the media diets, the content feeds that we consume on a daily basis?

Jayr Sotelo
I think with the whole meme era we’re living right now – everybody trying to find kind of their niche to explain a feeling, a situation, something like that, we’re seeing these kind of DIY toward an extent, pieces of content that we really don’t know where to put, but people like them and people are kind of interested in it, just because it’s something that they’ve never seen before. Right. So deepfake comes into your feed. I remember the first time it came to my feed, it was a clip of Jack Nicholson on The Shining split screen with Jim Carrey doing a deepfake of him. Right? So in terms of entertainment, like, I don’t know how to gauge it, but it has that kind of meme physics or chemistry inside of the video that allows you to look at it and having to look at it for a few times to see if you can notice where, you know, the algorithm went wrong or something. And then it also has this kind of like shareability, which is like, “Hey, have you seen this before?” And so I think that’s where I’ve seen it, you know, the murky and the dark side of deepfakes could go into, you know, political, you know, things like the election, things like that. I wish not to kind of get too much into that because I feel like there’s plenty of conspiracy theories that might, you know, be able to talk about that. I want to talk about more the fun stuff and, like, the things that are going to make you kind of share something, right. Which is, as we do every day, doing content.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, let’s kind of focus on perhaps the positives, empty fakes, right. And so I would love to know from you, how do you think that deepfakes will positively impact our culture and the content that we consume today?

Jayr Sotelo
I think it’s one of those things where, I don’t know if it’s going to be super positive, you know, as memes are, memes are positive in a way because they bring people together, they make you laugh, or, you know, so there’s a connection, right? Which social media kind of like that’s what we’re trying to create, each and every one of us by either creating content or sharing content. And so, in that sense, it could bring people together, and one of the things that I put on my article is I compared to Elf Yourself on steroids. And so Elf Yourself is the thing where you just put your face or your boss’s face or your grandpa’s face on some elf dancing, like, madly to, like, some Christmas song, so imagine that but, you know, done in a really subtle and more realistic way. And then doing it in scenes of, you know, famous movies, or imagine you can put your dad’s face on some quote, like, you know, Ferris Bueller, or a nicer metaphor, or not, like 40 years old or something. But I feel like it’s gonna allow for people to create more of this meme kind of worthy content, but it’s going to be directed toward the individual or the family or, you know, super, super, super niche.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. You talked a little bit about the shareability of this and kind of correlating that with memes – I think it’s really interesting because we have seen brands within kind of their social platforms start to use memes as a way to connect with their audience. So with the explosion of deepfakes, I’m interested in how you think brands can begin to leverage deepfakes in a way to positively impact and connect with their audience.

Jayr Sotelo
It’s basically, yes, brands do use memes nowadays, but I feel like anything a brand does, especially on the memes. It feels like the meme of Steve Buscemi with the skateboard telling, what’s up, my kids, or something like that.

Jessica Kingman
Fellow kids. Yeah.

Jayr Sotelo
That’s always in the back of my head when a brand wants to go into the meme world. And so with deepfake, one of the things I’m trying to do is to get the brands kind of in front of it before it becomes this, you know, crazy thing. I don’t know how much a brand is going to be able to, you know, fully use the extent of a deepfake, but there’s tricks and there’s techniques that can be used to enhance some of your content, right? The Full House of mustaches, where they take his face and put it in every actor from Full House. So, like, you can do that with your old advertisements, right? Like, if you’re running a campaign or you have a campaign that’s been running for a long time and you have the same guy, like, you put it on other things. It kind of reminds me of, was it Tide? That, you know, put the same actor on a bunch of different, like, commercials, like imagine that, but without all the production that that took. Right? And so, I think brands can get into the fake. Kind of like see, what the Internet is doing with it. See what YouTube’s doing with it, and then see how they can use maybe the same techniques to, you know, enhance some of their uses or, you know, even solve some of the problems they see on their advertising.

Jessica Kingman
I want to widen the aperture a little bit because I think one of the things that you mentioned, both in your trend and just in conversation, is that we see or we probably think about deepfakes primarily as being face, right? But you talked about the fact that deepfakes are infiltrating other aspects of the content, the posture, the gait, the voice even, of specific people. So I’m interested in what you think the cultural impact that will have beyond just, you know, replicating somebody’s face in these pieces of video content?

Jayr Sotelo
One of the examples that I’ve seen with this is The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. They took 1,300 hours of him talking to two different people, and they started making these little kind of, like, phrases and paragraphs that would sound totally like him because it was his voice, but also they’re being able to kind of, like, harness some of the ideas that he talks about most of the time. And so he starts, you know, sounding like himself. So this is where I think your question is going is, like, we might be able to in the future to have more Joe Rogan experiences even if he, you know, passes away or, you know, loses his voice.

But, yeah, but then it gets into, you know, it gets into, like, the whole moral issue and kind of what I talk about deepfake – I’ve talked to a lot of people about this. And I think at the end of the day, there’s bad, you know, there’s good, there’s murky, but it’s all going to be based on how we deal with reality. So if you’re one of those people that don’t like seeing fake stuff, you might not, you know, like it, but it’s this kind of moral, you know, compass situation where we’re going to have to be really careful to see what, where we get our media. I compare it to a diet of Cheetos® came up a couple of times, but, you know, you can eat Cheetos, which is like kind of like murky, meme-centric kind of content, or you can have your salads and your healthy foods, which would be something that’s coming from a different place than like a meme or a deepfake. And so that’s still kind of super important in our age. I have a couple of kids; I have a five year old. I try to stress, you know, to her to actually watch content that has story driven into it, which is really hard. Because there’s like, you know, half of YouTube Kids is like people opening toys, and reviewing toys, or making voices or something. And so I think it’s super important on deepfake, on memes, on any other sort of social media content that’s trying to deviate from the truth or deviate from what’s, you know, happening in front of you that you know, you treat it as TV, almost like, do you want your kid to eat the Cheetos all day? Well, no, you want them to eat some veggies. So the way I do it is through story, like, is this telling a story? Yes. Okay, that’s healthy. If it’s not, then what is it doing? And so on the deepfake level is like, is it telling a funny story? Is it showing a cool technique, which right now, that’s where we are, right? A lot of people just look at them and say, “Whoa, how did they do that?” And then there’s some stuff that’s pretty funny, but it’s mostly, you know, how did they do that? And that’s going to change in the span of maybe a year or even less to be like, instead of how did they do it, is like, is this real or not? And then we’ll go back to kind of, like, judging it like any other kind of piece of content.

Jessica Kingman
So you mentioned in your trend that the technology is actually moving faster than we can physically police it. However, you do mention that there is one detection algorithm that can detect 97 percent of deepfakes. But as you mentioned, that 3 percent can cause some pretty widespread damage. So I’m interested in your perspective on that 3 percent and what damage it can…

Jayr Sotelo
Well, yeah, I mean, if you have 3 percent of all the videos that have been uploaded by the world, to either Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat, whatever is next, right? That’s still a really big number. I’m not going to try and do math on that. But, you know, it’s that kind of like 3 percent number that academia has been able to get algorithms to kind of like, you know, basically, it’s almost, you know, foolproof except for this 3 percent. And the only problem is the volume of these videos; it’s so high that, you know, that 3 percent, you know, turns out to be a pretty big number. And so that’s where I don’t think Facebook or Google or you in academia are going to have the ability to control or police this. I think it’s going to be a matter of, you know, everybody moral kind of, like community outreach of saying, “Oh, that’s fake or this accounts fake this.” This is not. But also, I mean, there’s other ways to kind of protect your videos by, you know, one of the things I talked about is maybe like an extension to a video instead of a .mov or .mp4, something else that is able to grab some metadata and some authorization, you know, maybe code that allows you to know that what you’re seeing or what you’re uploading is true. I still think a lot of policing has to be done by us, the users. And, you know, sometimes we can vote with our likes, sometimes we can vote with our shares. So I know it’s hard not to share something that’s, you know, it’s kind of like counter-human to not share something that’s super like, you know, weird or bad, or show somebody, you know, getting hit in the face with a bat or something like that, you know, there’s just something like innate in us that wants to kind of, like, see it and then share it; it’s the Internet. We’re in the same place we were, you know, 20 years ago, except now our parents actually believe what’s on the Internet. But I remember, you know, early ’90s people would be like, “Oh, you read that on the Internet? Oh, that’s fake.” So there’s a little bit of that. Yeah, get back to, like, the okay, even sometimes, like, you just open a video, especially on Twitter; you’re literally looking at videos that you don’t know who made, right? And you just sitting there, like, sharing it and stuff. So I’m sorry, my deepfake article just became a moral compass article.

Jessica Kingman
Which I think was great. And we should have these conversations. My question, I think, is, you know, I think there is a little bit of onus on the end viewer and consumer, but you bring up an interesting point about Facebook and some of the, you know, tech giants that are really kind of the messenger of perhaps these nefarious deepfakes. Do you believe that it is too naive or optimistic to think that the onus should fall on the Facebooks, the Googles, and the Twitters of the world to police deepfakes?

Jayr Sotelo
I think it is. I think it’s, again, it’s something bigger than that. I think even advertisers could do something about that stuff. One of the big reasons I got into advertising was because I know advertising can do, can change culture. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes a bad way. But Bill Bernbach, back in the day, that’s what he basically talked about, was basically like a campaign can give you a feeling, can give you, you know, a trend, and can give you, like, it can talk about culture in a very good way, so even, maybe if advertisers don’t want to actually, you know, follow the deepfake, I mean, they can put a stand on it and they can make a joke, they can crack a joke, they can, you know, see it as something that’s not cool like, you know, so you can use advertising in that way. I think Facebook and Google and whoever’s next. Literally as I’m writing this article every day, I have to be like, oh, now this came out, that this, like, Japanese app or Chinese app came out that only uses a picture to put you on, like, a Game of Thrones episode, like, things like that. Like, it just moves so quickly. That, yeah, I don’t trust that side of it. That’s why I think something like a video format, or, you know, something that’s more hard-coded into the culture would be better than just kind of like letting Facebook do Facebook.

Jessica Kingman
I think, you know, this conversation, it leaves me with kind of a similar feeling and question that I had after I finished reading your trend – it’s that, you know, even though deepfakes, they may be fun, like placing my face in the middle of Game of Thrones, that brings me a little bit of joy in my day. Right? But should we be more concerned with the damage that these deepfakes will inflict on our society through potentially, you know, widespread misinformation? And so my biggest question becomes, like, is the fun worth the damage that deepfakes could potentially inflict?

Jayr Sotelo
Yeah, I mean, there’s, you know, there’s the saying, like, there’s things you can’t unsee, right? And so even if you know, something’s completely fake, it’s badly done. It looks like Monty Python, you know, it just like, you know, it’s so hokey. Sometimes seeing things, you know, can make you, you know, think different things about people and things like that. So, yeah, I totally see that it’s, again, it’s a technique that’s used right now for fun and things like that, but it could get into a pretty nuclear, you know, approach, like it could really damage political systems, that could really damage financial, like that’s something that I haven’t even seen, but, you know, you can get CEOs and things like that in places that they weren’t. So it is super, super murky. I think right now it’s fun. And there’s always like a fun side of the Internet, but it’s also like, we always have to think about the serious side. I grew up the ’90s. So I’ve been able to, I’m like an early Millennial or late Millennial. I’m from ’83. But I was able to kind of like live without the Internet, and then live with really slow, shitty Internet. And then now live with whatever-this-is Internet where, you know, there’s people that don’t even watch TV anymore. They just get everything on the Internet. So I think that’s super important to try and discern, like, how culture and society was before Internet and before all this crazy stuff. And then now, especially with newer generations, like, I think we have to go back and show them that there was a point, there was a time where we didn’t, we couldn’t do this stuff. You couldn’t even send a video.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, right.

Jayr Sotelo
It was like they were big, your phone didn’t have the capability. I’m sorry. I’m turning into, like, an old man.

Jessica Kingman
No, this is great. We need a curmudgeon for every digital trend.

Jayr Sotelo
I’m not a curmudgeon. I just have curmudgeon tendencies.

Jessica Kingman
There, don’t we all.

Jayr Sotelo
Join the club.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, exactly. So my last question for you is, in the up-front of your article or your trend, you mentioned the incredibly fantastic movie of Face/Off, where Nicholas Cage and John Travolta literally become one another, and if you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend that you see it. I’ve heard whispers that it’s the best Nicholas Cage movie. So my final question for you, would you rather create a deepfake video where you’re Nicholas Cage or John Travolta?

Jayr Sotelo
In the movie? They’re not, it’s not fake, Jessica. The movie? They actually take their faces off. Nicolas Cage is like this, like a bad guy. And John Travolta’s like an FBI agent or something. And somehow he gets John Travolta, and they change faces. I think I’d be cool with Nicholas Cage. Yeah, no, Nicholas Cage. I think it’s, he’s super, he’s super funny. Yeah, you guys need to watch that.

Jessica Kingman
That should be the biggest takeaway from this podcast.

Jayr Sotelo
Oh yeah, deepfake. We all know it’s bad and maybe good, whatever. Oh, yeah. Have you seen that Face/Off movie?

Jessica Kingman
Definitely watch Face/Off. To read more about Jayr’s trend, Deepfakes: The Good, the Bad, and the Murky, as well as other trends we predict will make an impact in the advertising landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com. Jayr, thank you very much.

Jayr Sotelo
Thank you, Jessica.

 

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