Manipulated media will fool you — yes, you

“We need to prepare for a new normal, where scrutinizing online images and videos is as natural as being fascinated by them.”

As a journalist, you’re likely among the last to fall for a bluff. You’ve probably stood your ground through chain letters, internet hoaxes, and even recent AI-generated articles and images.

That’s about to change.

Adobe, the creators of Photoshop, says editing software has become so sophisticated that we need to view all online images and videos with the same skepticism as scam emails.

The distinguished Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen recently gave us a taste of what is to come. Bendiksen set out to document life in the “fake news” capital of Veles in North Macedonia. Veles was home to at least 140 politics websites aimed at U.S. conservatives and Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential election.

This year, the result was published. In print, The Book of Veles investigates historical and current efforts toward producing disinformation and chaos, laden with photographs shot by Bendiksen.

Or so we thought. I was not the only victim when Bendiksen’s project turned out to be a tour de force of manipulation. The project had already received acclaim, and a screening at the prestigious Visa pour l’Image festival. The photos had been manipulated with 3D software. All the text was generated by AI.

Bendiksen was only exposed after creating a fake Twitter account portraying a Veles journalist that posted accusations against him.

“If an average nerdy photographer can go into his basement, look at YouTube tutorials, and create a whole photographic documentary from scratch, then we are in trouble,” Bendiksen said of the project. This book demonstratively proves we are headed for trouble.

In addition, a whole range of advances in synthetic media generation and media manipulation are currently broadcast-ready. Video games are drawing attention for looking increasingly realistic, and sophisticated computerized voice clones are convincingly replicating human voices. Director Jon Favreau confirms the trend: “It becomes harder and harder to trust your own eyes and ears when it comes to this stuff.”

With all these manipulation techniques increasing in sophistication and accessibility, they will trickle into more content. That is why we need to prepare for a new normal, where scrutinizing online images and videos is as natural as being fascinated by them.

Ståle Grut is a journalist and strategic advisor at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s R&D Lab, NRKbeta.

As a journalist, you’re likely among the last to fall for a bluff. You’ve probably stood your ground through chain letters, internet hoaxes, and even recent AI-generated articles and images.

That’s about to change.

Adobe, the creators of Photoshop, says editing software has become so sophisticated that we need to view all online images and videos with the same skepticism as scam emails.

The distinguished Magnum photographer Jonas Bendiksen recently gave us a taste of what is to come. Bendiksen set out to document life in the “fake news” capital of Veles in North Macedonia. Veles was home to at least 140 politics websites aimed at U.S. conservatives and Trump supporters during the 2016 presidential election.

This year, the result was published. In print, The Book of Veles investigates historical and current efforts toward producing disinformation and chaos, laden with photographs shot by Bendiksen.

Or so we thought. I was not the only victim when Bendiksen’s project turned out to be a tour de force of manipulation. The project had already received acclaim, and a screening at the prestigious Visa pour l’Image festival. The photos had been manipulated with 3D software. All the text was generated by AI.

Bendiksen was only exposed after creating a fake Twitter account portraying a Veles journalist that posted accusations against him.

“If an average nerdy photographer can go into his basement, look at YouTube tutorials, and create a whole photographic documentary from scratch, then we are in trouble,” Bendiksen said of the project. This book demonstratively proves we are headed for trouble.

In addition, a whole range of advances in synthetic media generation and media manipulation are currently broadcast-ready. Video games are drawing attention for looking increasingly realistic, and sophisticated computerized voice clones are convincingly replicating human voices. Director Jon Favreau confirms the trend: “It becomes harder and harder to trust your own eyes and ears when it comes to this stuff.”

With all these manipulation techniques increasing in sophistication and accessibility, they will trickle into more content. That is why we need to prepare for a new normal, where scrutinizing online images and videos is as natural as being fascinated by them.

Ståle Grut is a journalist and strategic advisor at the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s R&D Lab, NRKbeta.

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