Six Steps to Prepare Your Organization for Deepfakes: The New Disinformation and Reputation Risk

October 8, 2019

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You may have seen a recent video of Bill Hader morphing into Tom Cruise. Or maybe the Full House intro sequence with Nick Offerman playing every character. They’re entertaining and innocuous, if somewhat unsettling.

But these videos, called deepfakes, represent something much deeper, darker and potentially catastrophic for organizations.

Fueled by artificial intelligence, targeted misinformation and reputational chaos are on the rise. Machine-learning algorithms combined with facial-mapping software have enabled cheap and easy fabrication of content that hijacks one’s identity – voice, face, body. In essence, deepfakes insert an individual’s face into videos without their permission. The result is believable videos of people doing and saying things they never did.

The technology can even synthesize a completely new model of a person using the source’s facial gestures and images or video of the subject they wish to impersonate. Other examples include voice cloning, deep video portraits and face-swapping.

Deepfakes represent one component in the rise of “synthetic reality” or “synthetic media”, the fluid integration of the digital and physical spaces. But they’re at the heart of a looming disinformation problem. Any brand, politician or celebrity is susceptible to deepfake-caused mayhem, chaos and reputational risk.

Just a few examples:

So, what’s being done to combat deepfakes?

Researchers, companies and governments are working hard to develop technology and systems that will find and identify deepfakes more effectively.

Legislative bodies around the world are discussing the topics of ‘online harm’ and ‘misinformation and disinformation’ as public pressure grows on them to act. China already has a draft law in place to ban deepfakes.

Organizations need to not only be aware of this looming threat but actively prepare for the day they’re impacted. We’ve outlined six steps you can take:

1. Prepare a robust response plan

Deepfakes present new and rapidly changing scenarios for reputation management teams to address. Ensure your team has mapped out a wide range of scenarios and that key decision-makers have thought about how they’ll act to resolve a deepfake situation.

2. Monitor threats and keep records

Stay ahead of threats with a targeted monitoring plan that covers social and digital media. Capture public appearances by key executives and brand ambassadors so that if/when a deepfake is released, original footage is available to debunk or provide context.

3. Understand the digital landscape 

Know how the algorithms of key platforms work so that you can judge how potentially negative content might spread. Build relationships with key representatives from video-hosting platforms ahead of any incidents.

4. Know when and how to use the law 

Refresh connections with internal or external legal counsel and discuss potential legal responses to different scenarios ahead of time. Sometimes the best way to combat the threat is to utilize legal tools to target the deepfake at its origin.

5. Build relationships for credibility and support 

In a climate of increasing skepticism about official sources of information, third-party endorsements can be highly effective sources of support. Ensure you have developed networks to draw on when support is needed and an outside voice will cut through the noise.

6. Be authentic and true to your brand 

Organizations with a reputation for ‘spin’ will find it very hard to respond, even when attacks are fraudulent. Continue to act on your core brand values, building trust with your consumers and audiences so that in the case of a deepfake crisis, you’re given the benefit of the doubt.

You’re likely to see more deepfakes come across your feed going forward. But behind the humor is potential mayhem, chaos and risk to your organization. Now’s the time to get prepared.