Political campaigns

A Potential New Marketing Strategy for Political Campaigns: Deepfake Videos

The video shows Donald Trump speaking from a podium. With his classic speaking habits – “People love me because I’m a fair person” – he urges Belgium to withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which the United States did in the summer last.

But the video isn’t real – you can tell by Trump’s smudged lips and teeth. A Belgian social-democratic party created it and published it on Twitter and Facebook to promote a petition calling on the government to do more on climate change.

Jan Cornillie, sp.a’s political director, told Poynter that the increasing accessibility of “deepfake” video technology was one of the reasons the party decided to use it.

That and the fact that they thought it would do well on social media.

“What we wanted to do was use a villain to further a good cause,” he said. “We thought, ‘OK, Trump is known for pulling out of the climate change deal, but he’s also known for talking about fake news.’ By bringing the two together, we thought it would be interesting to draw attention to public debates… and for the first time, we used this technique of deepfake.

Deepfakes are a relatively new type of manipulated video that is basically created by extracting a large number of frames from one video and layering them over another. Named after a Reddit user who is credited with the technique, the goal is to create videos that swap faces and make it look like people have done or said things they haven’t. done. Existing examples are mostly porn on fringe websites like 4chan, and several major platforms have already banned them.

At the same time, the technology for creating deepfakes has developed rapidly over the past year. Adobe is testing software that allows users to edit speech as easily as text, while a team from the Technical University of Munich has been working on creating software for detecting and creating deepfakes.

And so far, sp.a’s video has managed to grab some attention. The deepfake had more than 100,000 cumulative views on Facebook and Twitter at the time of posting, and Cornillie said the party has seen an increase in traffic to its online petition.

On the technical side, Conner Rousseau, social media manager at sp.a, told Poynter in a post that he created the deepfake in just a few hours using Adobe’s After Effects software – a change from compared to past attempts, which primarily used a tool. called FakeApp. While the party thought it was a good idea to draw attention to climate change, there was internal discussion about whether it was ethical or not.

“You see it’s not a perfect deepfake video – you see it’s fake. We’re also saying at the end it’s fake,” Cornillie said. deepfake video – you had to see it was fake.”

However, several prominent commenters on Facebook and Twitter did not seem to understand that the video was fake. The fabricated Trump says it’s almost the end, but the volume drops and it’s hard to hear. In response, sp.a replied to several users to set the record straight.

Although it was the first political party to create a deepfake, sp.a likely won’t be the last. Dan Jackson, associate professor of media and communication at Bournemouth University, told Poynter in an email that he expects the issue to receive more attention over the next few years due to the jamming of real and fake campaign communications.

“There is certainly a long history of visual political communication, which has evolved based on the platforms and tools available to activists,” he said. “This use of deepfake must be seen in the context of this evolution. That said, deepfake has some unique features.

Politicians are certainly not immune to having manipulated content used against them. During his 2001 campaign, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi published posters with the phrase “concrete commitment”. They were quickly photoshopped into countless parodies online.

And politicians like Trump are perfect for memeing.

“This video fits nicely into a memetic genre (it’s pre-internet but now amplified by the age of memes) called Churchillian Drift,” said An Xiao Mina, chief product officer of the nonprofit tech company. lucrative Meedan, in a message. “Because of his unpredictable speaking style and assertions, Trump is a perfect candidate for what we might call Trumpian Drift – we should expect to see more outlandish/unexpected fake content about what he’s saying than for the other candidates.”

“I suspect Trump will be our new (Mark) Twain when it comes to fake content – ​​with the dynamics of the attention economy, we should expect outlandish quotes/claims to see more success with deepfakes .”

And it’s not just deepfakes – campaigns around the world are increasingly using disinformation strategies to get their message across. During his presidential campaign in France last year, Marine Le Pen’s team fabricated a video of a man pretending to be a television journalist. In Mexico, a marketing campaign claimed to have launched a fake news site in the name of one of the political parties.

Going forward, at least some of the conversation around campaigns using disinformation will have something to do with regulation. Cornillie said the sp.a video is legal because the party has publicly said it’s fake, but Jackson said he expects regulators to get involved in similar videos soon.

“In the context of disinformation/misinformation and concerns about fake news, I wouldn’t be surprised if campaign regulators were at some point interested in this type of campaigning, as it blurs the lines between what is fake and what is real,” he said. .

Will sp.a use another deepfake in the future? Cornillie said the party has no intention of doing so, but he’s also not ruling out the strategy.

“I don’t see how a deepfake video would (still) be worth using. Here’s why it was interesting is because Trump was known for his fake news and climate talks,” he said. “We wouldn’t always use that. The context must be correct and meaningful.