Deepfakes: Be Skeptical of What You See

How Fearsome are Deepfakes?
Take a 2-Question Survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/KK9WV6S

Into our current environment of “fake news” reports and the public’s growing distrust of news sources, has entered another complicating issue and that is deepfakes, totally fabricated videos created with Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. The overarching problem with deepfakes is that the core societal principle that seeing is believing is being disrupted. Benjamin Franklin’s adage, “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see,” is taking on new and ominous meaning in the world. The saying, “Don’t believe everything you read,” will soon seem anachronistic in comparison  to not being able to believe every video you see.

Then consider the proliferation of video surveillance in public places and the importance of videos as reliable evidence in newsrooms and courtrooms; the existence of deepfakes will call such “irrefutable” proof into question. “What implications does [deepfakes] hold for the integrity of any video in a digital age?” asked Vox.

It may seem that a groundswell of fear is rising in response to the potential impact of deepfakes on contemporary society. Over the past year, news headlines concerning deepfakes warn of the “craze being a harbinger of dystopia;” that deepfake videos “could destroy trust in society,” “undermine democracy” and  “may ruin the world.” It’s all very alarming and disconcerting. Yet, outside of members of the media, technology geeks, and students of digital innovation, not many people are aware of this latest, encroaching threat to society, and the general public that’s heard of deepfakes doesn’t seem bothered by the technology’s dystopian effect.

In the Forbes article, “DeepFakes: The Media Talks Politics While The Public Is Interested In Pornography,” the writer researched U.S. and worldwide search analytics to determine the public interest, both nationally and internationally, in deepfakes. The study showed that people expressed more concern or probably curiosity about deepfake pornography than about deepfakes’ potential political ramifications. The article surmises, “the public appears fixated on the application of AI-created imagery to create pornography with little interest in how it may undermine our democratic systems.”

Personally, I am not filled with dread over deepfakes. I consider this innovation as another ambiguous aspect of technology. By the way, deepfake technology has been around for some time; Reddit’s deepfake site existed since 2011 until it was banned in Feb. 2018. Deepfakes can be used for good or evil, much like everything associated with technology’s latest, digital innovations. “It’s easier than ever for programmers to train computers to simulate all kinds of things for our enjoyment, education, and advancement,” Vox magazine writes.

Interestingly, Jordan Peele’s deepfake Obama video, which was supposed to scare the “bejeesuz” out of people only garnered an “imperceptible” spike in public interest according to the Forbes article. In fact, Vox states, “It’s arguable that Peele’s contribution might not actually be helping people understand how serious the potential for reality distortion is, so much as giving them a taste of how fun this tech might be to play around with.”

Generally, regarding deepfakes, awareness is key. In our digital age, a media literate audience will have to look upon certain videos with a jaundiced eye. “Until we, as a group, realize that video is corruptible, we will be shocked over and over,” Cathy O’Neill, a mathematician, told Vox.

“In other words, it’s only a problem because we expect something else when we see a video. If we get used to it, it ceases to be a problem,” she added. “The answer lies in evolving our expectations accordingly.” O’Neill’s final conclusion serves as a great modification of Ben Franklin’s aforementioned maxim for the digital age: “Be skeptical of what we see, what we read, and for that matter what we hear, because sound can be edited as well.”

HOW FEARSOME ARE DEEPFAKES? ANSWER A 2-QUESTION SURVEY!

Free Thinking is Creating within Confines

I was very impressed by the sessions and workshops offered at the first Communications@Syracuse immersion that I attended at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, March 28 – 31, as part of my master’s program. Each session was interesting, relevant, and informative, yet the section titled “The Power of Branded Content, and the Key to Efficient Content Development,” presented by Melanie Deziel, founder of Story Fuel, resonated the most with me. So much so, that I believe this particular type of work, being a branded content manager/creator, may very well be the specific profession I will work on developing.

An excerpt from Melanie Deziel’s YouTube video.

I now view branded content as the happy merger of advertising, journalism, and public relations, all of the areas of study offered at Newhouse, all of which I have either work experience in, am currently studying, or have an interest in. I greatly appreciate Deziel for not only introducing this profession but also for providing such an engaging presentation and practical advice on how to become successful at it.

Deziel’s most salient advice and the concept that continues to reverberate for me, was her statement that “creativity thrives within confines.” At first, this was a jarring conclusion to me. I had always subscribed to the freewheeling, open-ended notion of creativity. However, Deziel imparted that confines or parameters “give your brain a direction to go in” and her analogy about being bi- or multilingual and being asked to recite something specific in a foreign language as opposed to having to select from an infinite amount of possible phrases really drove home the point of applying confines for creative thought.

I have since explored the subject of creativity and constraints and uncovered a couple of interesting articles. One article, “A Non-Writer’s Guide to Storytelling,” by Kristen Longnecker, talks about instituting “frames” into creative challenges to “switch your brain’s track . . . to problem solving mode.” http://jimc.medill.northwestern.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2016/12/JIMC_2017.33_anonwritersguide.pdf

In another article, “The Benefits of Constraints,” writer Charlie Gilkey admits that it is counterintuitive to impose confines on creativity, however, he emphasizes that “constraints also liberate us to do our best because they save our precious time, energy, and attention for focusing on achieving the goal within the confines of the constraints.” https://medium.com/thrive-global/the-benefits-of-constraints-c03df967ee5b

Matrix

Deziel’s demonstration of applying focus and format to content by using her matrix system,  truly elucidated how confines really work in the process of generating creative content ideas. She offered the most useful information by providing ten focus areas or things content can be about, and ten formats, which she explained are the ways to bring content to life. The exercises she led the class in tested the functionality of  her matrix  system and proved its effectiveness while being educational and fun. The inclusion of content multipliers was a bonus to the very impactful lesson on producing branded content.

Deziel was an exceptional presenter at the Immersion who shared a wealth of Story Fuel Story Ideas Guideinformation on a very important topic for communications professionals. As the person responsible for regularly producing  content for my organization’s website, newsletters, and social media platforms, I found Deziel’s session to be invaluable. It greatly expanded my perspective on what’s possible regarding creating fresh, quality content that helps to enhance my organization’s engagement with our public. I have since downloaded Deziel’s content matrix and shared it with my staff. It has already made our brainstorming sessions on story ideas more efficient and a lot less stressful. And, it was great to also find on Deziel’s website, storyfuel.co, a useful guide to better story writing, containing worksheets for composing instructional, informational, and opinion stories.

Finally, I must add that I appreciated Deziel’s mini Latin lesson: The word “Content” comes from the Latin roots of con + texere, and means “weave together,” an appropriate bit of information all communicators should know

WordPress: Websites Made Easy

I found the experience of setting up a blog with WordPress for the ICC 612 class last term to be interesting and enjoyable because of the application’s ease of use.

happycomputer
Setting up my first blog on WordPress was easy!

I was actually a little surprised how easily a blogger-novice like me was able to create a functional and professional-looking blog site using WordPress’s template. It was also effortless on WordPress to publish my blogs and share them through my Twitter account.

Though WordPress provides standard templates, it supports user creativity by offering numerous customizable options. I didn’t have to know a lot about content management systems to effectively navigate the WordPress application and incorporate its features in my blog. My blog site was also responsive on mobile devices.Responsive_Website_Design

For these reasons and more I definitely see enterprise use for WordPress as a CMS for companies’ websites. WordPress is already the most commonly used CMS because of the benefits it provides its users, including templates and themes, authoring tools, and asset management. I think its ease of use will remain as the number one attraction for new website creators as it allows people with limited IT knowledge to produce and maintain an impressive website and online presence. However, it remains to be seen whether WordPress can overcome some of its cons by developing some important functionalities, such as access for user groups, analytics, and compatibility with third party programs for content marketing and content strategy management.

web design

Communications: Expectations of Change

To consider the future of communications is to be simply enthralled by the unpredictability and excitement of the constant innovations in this field. The Internet and modern technology have created an environment from which so many aspects of communications have developed, transformed, and continue to emerge almost daily.

 

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It’s a little mind-blowing to take in all of the future possibilities of communications, from social media to augmented reality to live video streaming to the growth of user-generated content, and so much more. How to pick any one area that’s more interesting than the rest? Not possible.

Pressed for an answer, though, I have to say that I am truly interested in the entire future of communications.  It is this interest that compelled me to enroll in the communications@syracuse master’s program. I have worked in the communications field for many years and am currently the head of the Public Relations/Information Department at my office. Interestingly, with all of my experience, today it’s a struggle to keep up with the rapidly shifting dynamics of communications.

But I’m not complaining. I have always been attracted to the spontaneity and vigor of the communications field and its power to connect people and provide forums for generating ideas that may enhance human existence. Media convergence on the Internet has amped-up the vitality and reach of communications and each innovation promises more excitement and more potential for human growth and development.

Change ahead sign

For the last 30-plus years, all areas of the communications field have been disrupted and reinvented. For those of us who work in the communications field or study it, change is the one thing about it that we can expect with certainty. And that is, to me, what continues to be the most interesting thing about the future of communications.

Janice is Progressive’s Media Star

Since I was a kid, I’ve loved humorous commercials and my current favorite  is Progressive insurance’s “Janice Bought a House.” Interestingly, it occurred to me when thinking about my all time fav commercials that several top insurance companies use comedy to sell their services on television. For instance, Geico, Progressive, and Allstate — not the “good hands” guy but the mayhem man— all use humorous television ads to great effect. Since insurance is purchased to cover bad happenings, such as disaster, disease, accidents, theft, destruction, and/or death, I guess a little levity is needed to capture and hold people’s attention on this sort of depressing topic.

I find Progressive’s commercial featuring its usual main character, Flo, and her “sister” Janice to be both funny and unforgettable; for an insurance company’s television ad, that’s a winning combination!

What really makes this particular TV ad hilarious is its spot-on parody of our social-media-obsessed generation. Janice is not listening to Flo tell her about the need to purchase home insurance because she’s too busy taking selfies and posting on her cell phone, presumably fashioning an online image of herself that doesn’t quite match her reality.

This commercial works because almost everyone from youth to older audiences can relate to its cultural symbolism and laugh at the underlying joke about social media personalities. This commercial is light, amusing and memorable and quite possibly may put many young and older people alike in the frame of mind to think about home insurance and what Progressive has to offer. So Janice’s role as a social media influencer is borne out in an ironic way in this commercial. It’s all quite witty on Progressive’s part, I’d say.

Who’s Afraid of Big Data?

“Big Data” is a term that is generally misunderstood. At least that’s what I found in a very content-marketing-strategy-data-Big-Data-297x230small, unscientific survey of my family members. When I bring up the subject or simply ask the question, “What do you think about big data?” My family instantly goes into a negative reaction, saying things like, “Don’t like it” and “It’s bad.”

When pressed to explain what they think big data is, the consensus is that it is an invasion of privacy.

My little polling experiment revealed to me that the reality of big data needs to be better explained to the general public.

I did a little research on the topic and saw that there are a lot of definitions being bantered around about big data. But the meaning that made the most sense to me and upon which  I’ve settled is simply that big data is the amount of accessible information available on people primarily through their everyday use of the Internet, and how companies are managing, analyzing, utilizing, and securing that data.

Under this definition, big data is mainly a big issue with which businesses must contend. In order to grow businesses in our digital age, access to and the proper use of big data is essential.

I personally remember the early days of the Internet in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and in the public relations and marketing fields, database management was all the rage. Everyone in PR, marketing, and advertising wanted to learn how to get and effectively use databases. At the time, the databases were very simple, containing a limited number of fields, such as name, address, phone, and email address, and they may be categorized under specific interests. They were used for email campaigns that would invite people to events, request media to run press releases, or solicit donors for nonprofits. But that was before Web 2.0 and the rise of social media and definitely years away from the “Semantic” Web 3.0.

These days, available data is big! The information fields of current databases are 7ee803b8471e110534e4871c86157b7acomplex and varied, they may contain web browsing histories, financial transactions, several demographics, and buying habits. Big data requires special software to analyze it and store it. Additionally, it requires the four “V’s” to describe it:

Volume: The quantity of generated and stored data. The size of the data determines the value and potential insight, and whether it can be considered big data or not.

Variety: The type and nature of the data. This helps people who analyze it to effectively use the resulting insight. Big data draws from text, images, audio, video; plus it completes missing pieces through data fusion.

Velocity: In this context, the speed at which the data is generated and processed to meet the demands and challenges that lie in the path of growth and development. Big data is often available in real-time.

Veracity: The data quality of captured data can vary greatly, affecting the accurate analysis.

Today, companies must be proficient at effectively using big data to create personalized experiences for their customers. Certain companies are great at utilizing big data, such as Amazon, which is managing its access to big data to build brand loyalty and increase sales.

For example, I recently purchased an exercise bike on Amazon.com for my mother to use for physical therapy following her knee replacement surgery. It was convenient for me to purchase the bike because Amazon has my credit card information saved, to have the bike delivered to my mother because Amazon has her address saved from previous packages I’ve sent her, and finally, based on Amazon’s follow-up, emailed suggestion, I purchased a floor mat for the bike, which I didn’t initially think about but ended up needing.

BigDataManagerThe following information was cited in Wikipedia, under the definition of big data, describing the sheer volume of data that large digital companies contend with:

  • ebay.com uses two data warehouses at 7.5 petabytes and 40PB as well as a 40PB Hadoop cluster for search, consumer recommendations, and merchandising.
  • Amazon.comhandles millions of back-end operations every day, as well as queries from more than half a million third-party sellers. The core technology that keeps Amazon running is Linux-based and as of 2005, they had the world’s three largest Linux databases, with capacities of 7.8 TB, 18.5 TB, and 24.7 TB.
  • Facebook handles 50 billion photos from its user base.  As of June 2017, Facebook reached 2 billion monthly active users.
  • Google was handling roughly 100 billion searches per month as of August 2012.

Looking at these numbers it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around the concept of big data and it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the idea. But despite my family members misgivings and trepidations, I don’t fear big data because it’s just information. I’m excited about its myriad possibilities.

Give Us, Us Free: Internet

There’s a saying that states, “freedom ain’t free.” And, it appears that the same can be said about the Internet these days. If the choice was mine, I would definitely pass a law that would keep access to the Internet open, free and equal to all!

The Internet is the greatest example of democracy that exists in the world. It’s not surprising that there are those who oppose this massive forum for the exchange of ideas and powerful force for change being within easy reach of far-flung, diverse groups of people.

KeepInternetFree

The status quo wants to retain control of the masses intellectually, socially and economically; the Internet poses a real threat to its world domination. Movements that the status quo would consider to be radical are effectively using the Internet to communicate adverse messages and issues. Not to mention the open market potential of web-based businesses, where small marketers with big ideas can reach millions of potential customers with minimal investment, leveling the playing field with major corporations.

internet.freedom-808x400

I would rule the Internet free for all and ensure that individuals have equal opportunity to all the benefits that it offers. My regulation would guarantee that no one interest group ever monopolizes the Internet or controls the availability of its services.

My campaign would not be as dramatic as “Give me [Internet] or give me death.” But with the heartfelt emotion expressed by Cinque in “Amistad,” I would declare: “Give us, us free [Internet]!”

Give Us Free

 

Uncovering the Homework Gap within the Digital Divide

It comes as somewhat of a shock to those of us for whom Internet usage is a ubiquitous daily activity, that there are millions of our fellow U.S. citizens who have limited to no

digitaldividetopper
Courtesy of MIT Technology Review, “The Unacceptable Persistence of the Digital Divide.”

broadband access. Even though we all know a person or two who do not use the Internet: usually an older co-worker whose nervous about the new technology or an elderly parent or senior citizen who simply refuses to “get on that computer!”; we consider these isolated incidences and are not surprised because older Americans are really not expected to have to keep up with the rapidly changing technological landscape. But the surprising facts are that 20% of adults in households with incomes of less than $30,000 have no broadband at home and for this same demographic only 56% own a desktop or laptop computer, and most alarming is the group most affected by this digital divide is low-income, African American and Latino school-age children.

According to pewresearch.org, “The disparity in online access is . . . apparent in what has been called ‘the homework gap,’ or the gap between school-age children who have access to high-speed internet at home and those who don’t. Some 5 million school-age children do not have a broadband internet connection at home, with low-income households accounting for a disproportionate share.”

The disparity in online access has created what has been termed as the “homework gap,” a term defined on govtech.com as “the technology deficit that leaves some kids lacking the network access and devices they need to complete their schoolwork.”

Chart

Noting that 70 percent of teachers assign homework that requires Internet access, the article, “Tackling the Homework Gap . . . ,” reveals that “not all students have an equal ability to tackle such assignments. Some students have a robust Internet connection and a computer, but other students either have no connection at home, or they may be relying on a sibling’s smartphone, or they may do their homework at McDonald’s.”

The Homework Gap was recently examined by the Pew Research Center and explained in the Oct. 26, 2018, article titled, “Nearly one-in-five teens can’t always finish their homework because of the digital divide.” Some of the findings are as follows:

  • Roughly one-third of households with children ages 6 to 17 and whose annual income falls below $30,000 a year do not have a high-speed internet connection at home, compared with just 6% of such households earning $75,000 or more a year.
  • 17% of teens say they are often or sometimes unable to complete homework assignments because they do not have reliable access to a computer or internet connection.
  • One-quarter of black teens say they are at least sometimes unable to complete their homework due to a lack of digital access, including 13% who say this happens to them often.

In my hometown of Chicago, broadband usage was tracked by neighborhoods between 2008 and 2013 and the results published in Government Technology showed that there were “sizable gaps” in the number of people with broadband access based upon ethnicity and income. Low income, predominantly African-American and Latino communities showed low Internet usage on home computers and devices. This disparity attributes to the Homework Gap, as it was found that “parents who need to help their children with homework and lack broadband . . . are limited to their public library’s hours and the basic Internet searches they’re able to perform on their phones.”

The article spelled out the repercussions of the Homework Gap that’s caused by this digital divide. Foremost, school-age children with less access to technology will likely fall behind their peers in school. Additionally, it was noted that “there is some evidence that teens who have access to a home computer are more likely to graduate from high school when compared with those who don’t.”

It is very necessary to bring increased public attention to this technological dilemma that has the capability of adversely affecting the quality of life of low-income, minority groups for years to come. Public-Private partnerships should be encouraged to help bridge this divide through policies that increase broadband access in disadvantaged communities as well as programs that provide affordable or free laptops and computers in low-income households.

Using & Creating Social Platforms

Through all of its innovations as well as its challenges, Facebook is the social platform that I continue to use more than any other. In fact, I have used Facebook consistently since 2007. But I can’t say that I am an avid FB friend, meaning that I do not feel the need to post daily, weekly or even frequently. I post on Facebook in much the same way that I contribute to verbal conversations: I only talk when I feel I have something important to say. Still, I enjoy connecting with people on Facebook. I have been able to catch up with childhood friends whom I would normally have lost contact with. It’s enjoyable sharing family photos, vacation pictures, and news about personal accomplishments, etc. Facebook is the go-to application for almost all of my family and friends to share the milestones of life.

Facebook is also the most used social platform in my professional life. As the head of the Public Affairs Department on my job, it’s my staff’s responsibility to maintain the organization’s Facebook pages. We have found Facebook to be the best forum for connecting with the public. It delivers immediate access to a core group of people who are interested in the organization’s functions and services. We solicit and receive feedback from our customers on Facebook and we are able to use the communication to assess the efficacy of our programming. Facebook also allows my agency the opportunity to disseminate important messages to the public that the mainstream media either ignores and misconstrues. It’s the best forum for posting videos of the organization’s press conferences, its public events and presentations, and PSAs.

If I could create another social platform that would better fit my lifestyle it would be one specialized for people with like interests to share their cultural travel experiences only. I am asked often for my perspectives on travel to different locales by family, co-workers, and friends because they know I believe travel is not about spending the time isolated on resorts or in fancy hotels but rather using all or some of the time mingling with and learning about the people, their histories and cultures. I do post travel pics on Facebook, but the images tend to tell a small part of my journeys and soon get lost among the plethora of other topics covered on that platform. The specialized travel platform I’d create would only be open to people who are invited, to cut down on the “noise” of too much information. My invited “travel companions” could view my posts about adequately preparing for immersion travel, such as finding the best accommodations suited for this type of travel, where to go for tastes of the local cuisine, music, art, etc., and access prepared travel itineraries complete with contact names and numbers of trusted guides who live in the destinations.

I know that there are travel info social sites already out there and they can be great resources, however, I think that their commercialization detracts from the culture-based travel approach. I would invite companions who ask to view my cultural travel posts and they can also post their own travel posts as long as they fit the content parameters.

Browser Beware: Danger & Benefit of Internet Communication

I recently experienced both the danger and benefit of Internet communication when I was almost lured into a Mystery Shopper scam.

Unaware that being a Mystery Shopper is a thing, I was reviewing the inbox in my university email account when I came across a message with the subject line: Earn Now. When I opened the message, it read as follows (no grammatical corrections made):

Hello,

This Job is currently recruiting.  A Job that will not affect your present employment or studies, fun and rewarding.  You get to make up to $300 weekly, I tried it and i made cool cash, If You are interested you can visit their website at www.consumerinsight.us to apply and read more about the job.

Best Regards.

Job Placement & Student Services
Syracuse University
900 South Crouse Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13244

This emailed message arrived in my university inbox during the week leading up to the first week of classes and as a beginning student, I was receiving a lot of emails from school sources that were new to me. I was intrigued by the chance to make extra money since I was looking toward taking on the significant expense of graduate school, so I visited the website, which turned out to be attractive and well-designed.

The “job” was “Become a Mystery Shopper” and the enticing offer stated, “This is your chance to get paid to shop & dine out. You can make money, have fun and help improve customer service. The importance of customer service has turned mystery shopping into a $1.6 billion a year industry.”

Wow, it sure sounded like the perfect opportunity to make a little extra cash to pay for books, equipment, supplies, and other school expenses. Furthermore, this interesting job opportunity was sent to me from a trusted source: my university’s Job Placement & Student Services department. What the heck, I may as well apply.

So about three weeks later I received a text stating that I got the job; I should expect to receive a “survey packet” in the mail and when I do I should let the company know.

I received the packet and much to my surprise enclosed were three very authenticate looking Money Orders totaling almost $3,000.00, and instructions on what I should do to earn my pay of $300 (plus $50 for travel expenses) off the top. After the initial shock of seeing that much “money” being sent for this Mystery Shopper job that I hadn’t even done anything for yet, I became very suspicious. My husband immediately stated that it was a scam.

It appeared that I had encountered one of the dangers of the Internet: an online con game.

However, to verify that this was indeed a hoax, I turned to one of the benefits of Internet communication: I Googled “mystery shopper scams” and immediately accessed several sites warning against this particular Internet con. I found on the Better Business Bureau’s website (BBB.org) the interactive “BBB Scam Tracker” that searches scams based on keywords. After I entered “mystery shopper” in the search, a report showed the number of related scams reported, a map of the locations of the scams, the date the scam was reported, the zip code where it occurred, and the amount of money the individual lost in the scam. Each report entry also includes a Scam Description. It was complete and instantaneous access to critical, scam prevention information.

 

I read one of the Mystery Shopper scam descriptions that was very close to my own experience (see image above) with the exception being that the poor victim had lost $2,250.00. I’m definitely happy to have been warned about this “too good to be true” opportunity before it was too late.

Apparently, Internet communication can both torment and protect users, so browsers beware.