Jordan Peele does his best Obama
Using an increasingly sophisticated method for making fake videos, or "deepfakes," video editors can realistically face-swap someone into a video. (As our sister site Gizmodo reports, the technology has been especially popular for making fake celebrity porn.) Deepfakes will soon make it hard to tell when a video of a famous figure is real. To demonstrate, BuzzFeed and director Jordan Peele created a "deepfake" of Barack Obama saying things like "President Trump is a total and complete dipshit."
While this isn't the most convincing deepfake video, it's enough to fool some people, especially someone watching a low-res copy on a smartphone in a hurry. The technology will inevitably improve, but this video is a good tool for studying the current telltale signs of a deepfake. Here are three things to ask yourself:
Is their mouth moving too little?
It's easy to slap someone's face onto another person's head; it's much harder to imitate the intricacies of speech. Fake Obama has trouble with his "P" sounds, especially on "complete dipshit."
Does their voice sound off?
While audio software is also making easier to imitate someone's voice, right now it often leaves signs of editing: the pitch might be off, or the intonation might sound a bit like Siri. In BuzzFeed's video, Peele provides the audio with a convincing, but slightly imperfect, vocal impression.
Do they move herky-jerky?
Is their face moving independently of their body? Is their mouth moving independently of their face? Notice how Obama's eyes dart around, and how his mouth seems a bit detached from his face. Contrast with how Peele's mouth and eyes both move in tandem with his facial muscles.
Do they look like a video game?
Fake video apps can't (yet) perfectly imitate the effects of different video recording qualities, lighting, and encodings. So in different spots, Fake Obama looks oddly sharp or blurry or lit from odd angles. Plus the outline of his jaw tends to flicker. There's a tiny bit of that gap between the real human and the simulation — the Uncanny Valley that creeps us out at a primal level.
Deepfake videos, video games, and movie special effects use similar technologies, so a deepfake will often resemble a game or movie. That's not a foolproof test of a video, but it's a warning sign.
How do they look in a real video?
Watch a bit of this "fireside Hangout" from the real Obama. BuzzFeed used a very similar video of Obama to build their fake one.
Note the real Obama's facial tics and body movements. Listen to his voice, a little deeper and flatter than Peele's impression. See how his face matches the rest of the picture. And note how precisely the human mouth moves to form sounds.
Also note the high resolution in the real video. The higher the resolution and quality of a video, the harder it is to fake it. Again, and we can't stress this enough, the gap will eventually close as technology gets more sophisticated. But for now, it takes a lot of time and effort to make a convincing fake video of someone talking. It would be even harder to put words in Obama's mouth if he were walking around as he talked, or if the camera moved around. So the simpler and lower-quality the video, the higher the chance someone could convincingly fake it.
BuzzFeed also recommends considering the source and seeing where the video has been covered online, which you should do with any rumour that seems too crazy to be true. Since no one of the analytical tactics above is foolproof, it's best to combine them with something like this.
Be on your guard. Because when that other president's pee tape comes out, some brave soul will have to stare at it to check that it's real.