In Argentina, fact-checkers supported a ‘deepfake’

October 8, 2019
Category: Fact-Checking,IFCN

Fact-checkers in Argentina are in their Aikido moment.

Aikido is an ancient Japanese martial art through which the fighter uses all of his opponent’s strength to beat him and win the battle.

For fact-checkers in Argentina, the enemy is the electoral misinformation. On Oct. 27, the country will elect a new president. And, tired of fighting all types of falsehoods, fact-checkers and advertisers teamed up with some TV channels to start airing a striking ‘deepfake’ video. The collaboration, which airs this week, is a first.

On Monday, a manipulated one-minute-long piece signed by Fit BBDO played on many open TV channels in Argentina showing the candidates who are running for Casa Rosada in unexpected situations.

President Mauricio Macri (PRO), who seeks reelection, appeared bouncing a soccer ball. Alberto Fernández (PJ) played a Jimmy Hendrix guitar solo. Roberto Lavagna (Independent) juggled, and Nicolás del Caño (Frente de Izquierda) stretched his legs just like Jean-Claude Van Damme in some of his movies.

“With this campaign, we are trying to show more people that misinformation exists and that each one of us can either help to stop or aggravate the problem,” said Laura Zommer, director of Chequeado, the biggest fact-checking organization in Argentina, and also the co-director of Reverso, a collaborative project launched in June that brings together more than 120 media outlets to fight electoral misinformation.

Zommer recognizes that manipulated images and out-of-context photos have been more prevalent in Argentina than ‘deepfake’ videos. But she strongly advocates for the use of this TV advertising to get the impact they need.

“The use of a deepfake that ends telling you it is a deepfake draws attention to the sophisticated new techniques that are currently being used to deceive citizens.”

Related training: Hands-on fact-checking

To make the video look realistic, Fit BBDO certainly spent more hours and more tools than a deepfake producer would usually spend.

The team gathered 40 videos and 20 real photos of the candidates and paired them with imitator’s voices to get the final version. According to the company, just the rendering part of the work took them about 190 hours.

“We used post-production and artificial intelligence applications. We made camera and image adjustments, and reached to a large cast so no one could see our trick,” said Federico Russo, director of Oruga, the company responsible for the production. “It is a piece of work which, in essence, has enormous potential to deliver a clear and definitive message.”

It’s been four months since Reverso was launched and since many media outlets across Argentina have been debunking false pieces of content together. Working under Chequeado, AFP Factual, First Draft and Pop Up Newsroom’s leadership, the group has published over 139 fact checks and has managed to be on Twitter’s trending topics many times.

Related reading: The future of deepfake – and what it means for fact-checkers

For this last month of campaigning, however, Zommer has more plans. Looking back at what’s been done so far, she sets a few more goals.

“We should have started working with the audiovisual team before. Our production only found the tone in the last month. So we are working on it now. Besides, we have not yet been able to automate responses through our WhatsApp channel. This means our users may not receive our feedback within the optimal time frame,” she says.

She would also like to see more media outlets fact-checking for Reverso. Of all newsrooms involved, 25 have actually collaborated. Zommer wants to sse this number going up.

Until further notice, Reverso will be active until December 11th and Zommer expects presidential candidates share their “deepfakes” on social media, helping to spread the word against disinformation:

“We were very careful not to make fun of them. In some cases, like Macri and Fernández, we even used their real hobbies on the scene. So we hope they enjoy the piece and celebrate it with us.”

Cristina Tardáguila is the associate director of the International Fact-Checking Network and the founder of Agência Lupa, in Brazil. She can be reached at ctardaguila@poynter.org.