Can You Believe Your Own Eyes?

Videos are easily manipulated, but a careful eye can tell the difference.

Posted Jul 06, 2019

Patricia Prijatel
Source: Patricia Prijatel

A doctored video of Nancy Pelosi, supposedly drunk, was shared more than 60,000 times for more than 4 million views in just a few hours. The video was not even all that well done, but it got retweeted by people like Rudi Guiliani and was soon on as flat-out false. But the image is still floating out there, ready to be believed by those who want, or fear, it to be true.

“It’s not that we are fooled, but that we want to believe in the integrity of evidence that images and audio provide as documentation of an event,” according to Joan Donovan, director of the Technology and Social Change Research Project at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center.

Who are you going to believe: me or your lying eyes?

That once was ironic. Now, it could be read as a warning. The photographic evidence once considered truthful and real can be so easily manipulated that our eyes are beginning to feel like liars.

Many videos are so skillfully edited that they suck us in, to the point where we have trouble telling the difference between truth and fiction. These are the deepfakes, “a video that has been digitally manipulated so well that it may be difficult for the average viewer to tell it is fake,” says journalist Clark Merrefield, writing for Journalist’s Resource.

The term comes from a Reddit user who developed a technique to graft the facial movements of one person onto another person. The result can be obvious and funny—viewers chuckled at Steve Buscemi’s face superimposed on a video of Jennifer Lawrence. But it can be dangerous and, some worry, a threat to the 2020 presidential election.

In many instances, according to Mike Tunison, writing in the Daily Dot, you can tell the fake, because part of the image is not like the rest—it’s blurred, or the facial color changes slightly within the image.

Jane C. Hu, writing in Slate, says your best bet in figuring out the veracity of videos is to use the same techniques we used for years to tell if static images had been photoshopped: be skeptical, look closely, and, sadly, don't believe your lying eyes.

If it's too good—or too bad—to be true, look closer, research the topic, look at other videos of the person or event. And look at the source. Assess it based on the Media Bias Chart

Most important, verify before you share. The delight of getting a boatload of likes is fleeting, but the damage that doctored reality can inflict on our very idea of truth could be permanent.