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Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Facebook bans 'deepfake' videos in run-up to US election

”Critics say policy does not cover ‘shallow fakes’ – videos made using conventional editing tools

Monika Bickert, head of global policy management for Facebook, made the announcement on Monday.
Monika Bickert, head of global policy management for Facebook, made the announcement on Monday. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

Facebook has announced a new policy banning AI-manipulated “deepfake” videos that are likely to mislead viewers into thinking someone “said words that they did not actually say”, as the social network prepares for the 2020 US election.

But the policy explicitly covers only misinformation produced using AI, meaning “shallow fakes” – videos made using conventional editing tools – though frequently just as misleading, are still allowed on the platform.

The new policy, announced on Monday by Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, will result in the removal of misleading video from Facebook and Instagram if it meets two criteria:

  • “It has been edited or synthesised … in ways that aren’t apparent to an average person and would likely mislead someone into thinking that a subject of the video said words that they did not actually say.”

  • “It is the product of artificial intelligence or machine learning that merges, replaces or superimposes content onto a video, making it appear to be authentic.”

To date, there have been no major examples of content that would break such rules. Some news organisations, including the BBCNew York Times and Buzzfeed have made their own “deepfake” videos, ostensibly to spread awareness about the techniques. Those videos, while of varying quality, have all contained clear statements that they are fake.

The most damaging examples of manipulated media in recent years have tended to be created using simple video-editing tools. During the UK election, the Conservative party came under fire for a video edited to make it appear as though the Labour MP Keir Starmer had no answer to a question about Brexit. Facebook at the time confirmed the video satisfied its policies on misinformation, and since there was no AI involved in its creation, it would still be allowed today.

In the US, a doctored video that seemed to show the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, slurring her way through a speech was similarly allowed by Facebook. The video, spread by Trump supporters including Rudy Giuliani, was edited, but not using any technique more complex than slowing down the raw footage and pitch-shifting the audio.

Real v fake: debunking the 'drunk' Nancy Pelosi footage - video

The removal policy is just one branch of Facebook’s attempt to fight misinformation, Bickert argued. “Videos that don’t meet these standards for removal are still eligible for review by one of our independent third-party fact-checkers, which include over 50 partners worldwide fact-checking in over 40 languages,” she said. “If a photo or video is rated false or partly false by a fact-checker, we significantly reduce its distribution in news feed and reject it if it’s being run as an ad. And critically, people who see it, try to share it, or have already shared it, will see warnings alerting them that it’s false.

“This approach is critical to our strategy and one we heard specifically from our conversations with experts. If we simply removed all manipulated videos flagged by fact-checkers as false, the videos would still be available elsewhere on the internet or social media ecosystem. By leaving them up and labelling them as false, we’re providing people with important information and context.”

The company also has a separate policy that allows any content that breaks its other rules to remain online if it is judged “newsworthy” – and that all content posted by politicians is automatically seen as such.

“If someone makes a statement or shares a post which breaks our community standards we will still allow it on our platform if we believe the public interest in seeing it outweighs the risk of harm,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, when he introduced the policy last September. “From now on we will treat speech from politicians as newsworthy content that should, as a general rule, be seen and heard.” That policy means that even an AI-created deepfake video expressly intended to mislead could still remain on the social network, if it was posted by a politician.

Facebook did not give a reason as to why it limited its policy exclusively to those videos manipulated using AI tools, but it is likely that the company wanted to avoid putting itself in a situation where it had to make subjective decisions about intent or truth. Facebook has struggled to settle on a policy about what to do about deepfakes for a number of years, with the company publicly acknowledging the potential damage such videos could inflict, while also standing by a prior decision – thought to be a direct policy of teh founder, Mark Zuckerberg – to avoid ruling on whether or not content on the site is true or false.

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America faces an epic choice...

... in the coming year, and the results will define the country for a generation. These are perilous times. Over the last three years, much of what the Guardian holds dear has been threatened – democracy, civility, truth. This US administration is establishing new norms of behaviour. Anger and cruelty disfigure public discourse and lying is commonplace. Truth is being chased away. But with your help we can continue to put it center stage. It will be a defining year and we’re asking for your help as we prepare for 2020.

Rampant disinformation, partisan news sources and social media's tsunami of fake news is no basis on which to inform the American public in 2020. The need for a robust, independent press has never been greater, and with your help we can continue to provide fact-based reporting that offers public scrutiny and oversight. You’ve read more than 26 articles in the last four month. Our journalism is free and open for all, but it's made possible thanks to the support we receive from readers like you across America in all 50 states.

"America is at a tipping point, finely balanced between truth and lies, hope and hate, civility and nastiness. Many vital aspects of American public life are in play – the Supreme Court, abortion rights, climate policy, wealth inequality, Big Tech and much more. The stakes could hardly be higher. As that choice nears, the Guardian, as it has done for 200 years, and with your continued support, will continue to argue for the values we hold dear – facts, science, diversity, equality and fairness." – US editor, John Mulholland

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

March Against Anti-Semitism

March Against Anti-Semitism

“A show of support for the true spirit of New York.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

New York is home to the first Jewish congregation in the United States, Shearith Israel, founded in 1654 by Jews who had been expelled from Brazil by the Portuguese.

In the three and a half centuries since, the Jewish population grew. Some Jews arrived in the late 1800s and the early 20th century, entering New York through Ellis Island alongside other immigrants.

Others came around the time of the Second World War, seeking refuge from the horrors of the Holocaust.

New York has been indelibly shaped by their presence.

And yet now, some would claim that Jews are no longer welcome, that they do not belong.

The Hanukkah stabbing in Monsey was only the latest in a string of anti-Semitic attacks.

Of 421 hate crimes reported in New York City in 2019, more than half were directed at Jews, according to police crime data.

In Crown Heights in August, a Jewish man in his 60s was hit in the face with a brick, breaking his nose and knocking out his teeth.

In November, an Orthodox woman and her child were walking in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn when three young boys threw eggs at them.

Just weeks later, two Orthodox teenagers were assaulted in Brooklyn, one of them hit in the head, his yarmulke removed.

Jews are being attacked on the streets of New York. New Yorkers can’t stand for that. What is called for now is a mass show of solidarity and rejection of anti-Semitism, which is among the oldest, most insidious hatreds on the planet.

In France last year, thousands took to the streets to protest a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents.

How beautiful would it be to see thousands of people, Jews and non-Jews alike, walking through the streets of Brooklyn in yarmulkes?

Such an effort is underway, planned for Sunday in Lower Manhattan. Marchers will gather at Foley Square, just north of Chambers Street near City Hall, then walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.

The event was planned by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and the UJA-Federation of New York, along with other groups. This is a chance for people of all faiths and backgrounds to show critical support for New York’s Jewish communities. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio can help by joining in, coming together in unity to march against anti-Semitism alongside New Yorkers.

Both men, along with many other New York public officials, have already responded with moral seriousness to the rise in anti-Semitic attacks. Mr. Cuomo rightly described the Monsey attack as “domestic terrorism,” and said he would propose a state law to help address the scourge when the Legislature returns to work in Albany next month. Jersey City, where two gunmen killed three people in an anti-Semitic attack at a kosher supermarket last month, is also grappling with how to respond.

In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio over the weekend said the city would increase police presence in heavily Jewish areas. That’s a sensible step in the short term, given the palpable fear in New York’s Orthodox communities especially. But longer-term, flooding Brooklyn communities with police officers is not the solution, particularly given the history of overly aggressive policing tactics in minority neighborhoods.

The mayor announced a broader initiative in which community groups will meet regularly to help prevent hate crimes. A similar model has shown promise in fighting gun violence in New York. Improving New York’s mental health system should also help. The vast majority of those struggling with mental illness will never become dangerous to others, let alone carry out hate crimes. But some close to Thomas Grafton, the alleged assailant in the Monsey attacks, have said he has long struggled to find treatment for serious mental illness, statements that shouldn’t be ignored.

Other incidents appear to have been carried out by young people, sometimes in neighborhoods with long histories of tensions between Jewish and black and Hispanic New Yorkers. Mr. de Blasio has also committed to implementing anti-hate crime curriculums in the city’s schools, with a strong focus on middle and high schools in communities adjoining Orthodox neighborhoods. 

What could be going so wrong in lives of these young people that their minds are twisted toward such ugliness? To fight hate in the longer term, it’s in the interest of all of us to find out.

These are good steps. But they aren’t enough.

Some, as always, are seeking to exploit this moment of deep pain. If we allow them to, they will divide us, pushing New Yorkers further behind the tribal lines that have always run through the city.

That would be a terrible outcome.

Every day, New Yorkers of all faiths and races depend on a deep spirit of pluralism and tolerance as they make their way through the city’s subways, parks and sidewalks.

These crimes are a direct attack on that spirit.

In New York, a city of immigrants and refugees, anti-Semitism is a threat to everyone. Just like white supremacy, it flourishes like a plague when cynics and bigots inflame painful divisions and spew hate for political gain.

It should come as no surprise, then, that violent hate crimes against other Americans — black, Hispanic, Muslim, transgender — have also been on the rise in recent years.

To protect all of us, New York needs to show up against anti-Semitism. We need to march in the streets, together.“

Trump Bet He Could Isolate Iran and Charm North Korea. It’s Not That Easy.

Trump Bet He Could Isolate Iran and Charm North Korea. It’s Not That Easy.


“The president assumed economic levers would guide the countries’ national interests. Now, he confronts twin challenges in an election year.

Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press

President Trump entered the new year facing flare-ups of long-burning crises with two old adversaries — Iran and North Korea — which are directly challenging his claim to have reasserted American power around the world.

While the Iranian-backed attack on the United States Embassy in Baghdad seemed to be under control, it played to Mr. Trump’s longtime worry that American diplomats and troops in the Middle East are easy targets and his longtime stance that the United States must pull back from the region. 

In North Korea, Kim Jong-un’s declaration on Wednesday that the world would “witness a new strategic weapon” seemed to be the end of an 18-month experiment in which Mr. Trump believed his force of personality — and vague promises of economic development — would wipe away a problem that plagued the last 12 of his predecessors.

The timing of these new challenges is critical: Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage. 

The protests in Iraq calmed on Wednesday, at least for now, and Mr. Kim has not yet lit off his latest “strategic weapon.” But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Mr. Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy. They also belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” 

Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature. Many foreign policy experts say he fundamentally misjudged the reactions of two major American adversaries. And neither seems to fear him, precisely the critique he leveled at Barack Obama back in the days when Mr. Trump declared America’s toughest national security challenges could be solved as soon as a president the world respected was in office.

The core problem may have been Mr. Trump’s conviction that economic incentives alone — choking off oil revenues in Tehran and the prospect of investment and glorious beach-front hotels in North Korea — would overcome all other national interests. 

He dismissed the depth of Iran’s determination to re-establish itself as the most powerful force in the region, and Mr. Kim’s conviction that his nuclear arsenal is his only insurance policy to buoy one of the last family-controlled Stalinist regimes. 

“After three years of no international crises,” Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote on Tuesday, Mr. Trump is “facing one with Iran because he has rejected diplomacy and another with North Korea because he has asked too much of diplomacy.” 

“In neither case has Trump embraced traditional diplomacy, putting forward a partial or interim pact in which a degree of restraint would be met with a degree of sanctions relief.”

Mr. Trump does not engage with such arguments. He simply repeats his mantra that Iran will never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that North Korea — which already has fuel for upward of 40, much of it produced on Mr. Trump’s watch — has committed to full denuclearization, even though that overstates Mr. Kim’s position. 

His top national security officials, starting with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, offer a somewhat more nuanced view, saying that over time Iran will realize it has no choice but to change its ways and expressing optimism that “Chairman Kim will make the right decision and he’ll choose peace and prosperity over conflict and war.”

Increasingly, though, such lines sound like a hope, not a strategy. And that is Mr. Trump’s fundamental problem as he enters 2020: His diplomacy has not produced a comprehensive plan to gather the nation’s estranged allies into a concerted course of action.

The absence of a common approach is hurting the most in Iran. When Mr. Trump abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal — declaring it a “terrible” piece of Obama-era diplomacy because it did not create permanent restraints on Iran’s ability to produce nuclear fuel — his aides sounded confident that Europe, China and Russia would follow suit. They did not. 

Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA, via Shutterstock

Europe has flailed in its efforts to counteract American sanctions against Iran, but has insisted that the deal remains in place, even though both Washington and Tehran are violating key aspects of it. 

Russia and China have taken the next step: Last week they opened joint naval exercises with Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The exercises were not militarily significant, and the three nations have plenty of differences. But to the Iranians, they symbolized having two nuclear-armed superpowers on their side.

Vice Admiral Gholamreza Tahani, a deputy commander for the Iranian Navy, was quoted in the Financial Times declaring that “the most important achievement of these drills” was the message “that the Islamic Republic of Iran cannot be isolated.” 

It is possible that the Trump administration’s strategy will still bear fruit: Mr. Pompeo was doing everything he could in recent weeks to express support for Iranians who were mounting protests inside their own country. But the history of past protests — most notably in 2009 — offers little hope that they can threaten the government. Hundreds of protesters appear to have been killed by internal security forces this time.

Meanwhile, the Iranians have a fine sense that “maximum pressure” campaigns work in both directions. They are vulnerable to cutoffs in oil flows. 

But the United States is vulnerable to highly public attacks on troops and tankers. And the attack on the outer walls of the American Embassy in Baghdad, even if short-lived, was clearly intended to send a shiver down the spine of Mr. Trump’s political aides, who remember well that a hostage crisis led to President Jimmy Carter’s re-election defeat 40 years ago. 

Mounting a strike and pulling back is a familiar technique from Iran in recent months, including its attacks on oil tankers, an American drone and Saudi oil facilities.

The Iranians have made clear what Mr. Trump needs to do to reopen negotiations: Essentially, return to the deal struck with Mr. Obama, largely by lifting sanctions Mr. Trump imposed starting in May 2018. There are signs Mr. Trump is eager to resume talks, including his effort to lure President Hassan Rouhani to the phone when the Iranian leader was in New York in September for United Nations meetings.

That diplomatic initiative will doubtless continue in secret. But the Iranians have found new leverage: the ability to turn anti-Iran protests in Iraq into protests against American troops there, complete with Iran’s signature “death to America” street chants.

Mr. Trump returned to a well-known stance on Tuesday, emphasizing that he did not want a war but also warning Iran that if it started one, any conflict “wouldn’t last very long.”

North Korea is a harder problem because there Mr. Trump had a diplomatic process underway, one that was both bold and imaginative. By breaking the mold and agreeing to meet the North Korean leader face to face, the first for an American president since the end of the Korean War, he had the makings of a breakthrough.

But he made key mistakes. He failed to get a nuclear freeze agreement from the North in return for the meeting, meaning that the country’s nuclear and missile production churned along while the two old adversaries returned to their old stances. 

And Mr. Trump’s team, internally divided, could not back itself out of the corner the president initially put it in with his vow for no serious sanctions relief until the arsenal was disbanded. Mr. Trump did cancel joint military exercises with South Korea — over Pentagon objections — but that was not enough for Mr. Kim. 

But perhaps Mr. Trump’s biggest miscalculation was over-relying on the personal rapport he built with Mr. Kim, and overinterpreting the commitments he received from the young, wily North Korean leader. 

That continues. On his way to a New Year’s party at his Mar-a-Lago club on Tuesday night, the president focused on their relationship, as if Mr. Kim’s declaration that he was no longer bound by any commitment to cease missile and nuclear testing did not exist. “He likes me, I like him, we get along,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s representing his country, I’m representing my country. We have to do what we have to do.” 

Then he misrepresented the agreement in Singapore, describing it as if it were a real estate deal. “But he did sign a contract,” Mr. Trump said of the vague declaration of principles reached in Singapore in June 2018. 

In fact, it was not a contract, it had no binding force and it referred to the “denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That phrase means something very different in Pyongyang than it does in Washington: It means the North expects the United States to pull back its own nuclear-backed forces, including submarines and ships that can deliver such weapons to the peninsula. 

So now Mr. Trump finds himself in roughly the same place his predecessors did: awaiting a new missile test. 

It may be a solid-fuel, intercontinental missile, according to some experts like Vipin Narang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to show that the North has finally mastered a weapon that can be rolled out and launched with little warning. And it may carry some kind of payload to demonstrate that the country now knows how to make a warhead that can withstand re-entry into the atmosphere, a difficult technology.

But buried in Mr. Kim’s New Year’s statement was a suggestion of what he really had in mind: talks with the United States about the “scope and depth” of the North’s nuclear force. That means he really is not interested in denuclearization at all. He is interested in arms-control talks, like the United States conducted for decades with the Soviet Union, and then Russia. 

And arms control, of course, would achieve what Mr. Kim, his father and his grandfather all sought: that insurance policy for the family.“