Tag Archives: fake news

Why Catholics should beware as high-tech ‘deepfake’ videos emerge

Credit: Unsplash.

DALLAS, Texas – Like any figure of importance, there is high likelihood that the Pope or another Catholic leader could be the subject of a fake video using a rapidly improving technology—and everyone needs to take care not to empower such a hoax, said Rudolph Bush, director of journalism at the University of Dallas.

“It’s very likely to happen, I think, and the consequences could be serious,” Bush told CNA  on 23 April 2018. “Depending on who is targeted by this, depending on how ripe that target is to be manipulated, it could be very damaging.”

For Bush, the prospect is “really worrisome,” given reports that social media have been used to incite societies during elections or times of racial or ethnic tensions. These tensions are manipulated to foment “not only political strife but war and in some cases genocide.”

Bush has worked as a professional journalist since 1997, serving as Dallas and Enterprise editor at the Dallas Morning News. He has written for the Chicago Tribune and the Dallas Morning News on politics and crime.

He spoke in response to the development of so-called “deepfake” videos, which are created with artificial intelligence software. One video published by Buzzfeed appeared to feature former US President Barack Obama in a public service announcement about fake news.

“We’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time — even if they would never say those things,” Obama’s image said.

“So, for instance, they could have me say things like, I don’t know, ‘Killmonger was right!’” said the digitally modified president, referring to the antagonist in the 2018 hit movie “Black Panther” who aimed to launch a global African uprising.

In the video, Obama appears to insult President Donald Trump and make fun of Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, before it is revealed that the president’s image is a digital modification. His lips have been synchronised with those of filmmaker Jordan Peele, who has acted as an Obama impersonator.

“This is a dangerous time. Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the internet,” Peele’s Obama says.

The footage of President Obama was manipulated and set to a script. Adobe After Effects and a programme called FakeApp were used. Rendering of the clip took about 56 hours. Peele, a filmmaker who won an Oscar for the movie “Get Out,” conceived the video with his brother-in-law BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti.

With the prospect of such videos, Bush said, one has to work to “straighten out what is fake news and what is real news.”

“What it does is sow seeds of distrust and worry in societies,” he said. “And of course democracies are based on communal trust, the idea we can get together and solve our problems peacefully.”

The rise of the “deepfake” video also poses the question: will falsehood triumph?

“There used to be an old saying that the truth will win out. That is something that we based our societies on, our journalism on: over time, what is true will carry more weight than what is false,” Bush continued. “That’s being tested now.”

“We live in an age when there is so much false information, at such a volume, that it can be hard to sort out what is true,” he said. “We have a responsibility as consumers to verify what is true, and when we understand what is true, to share it with our fellow parishioners.”

He advised readers to find trusted sources of information within their community, whether in their church community or in the local newspaper, and to rely on those.

“This is a really difficult conversation in our society: whether people will trust the so-called traditional media or mainstream media,” Bush said. “A great deal of effort has been put into sowing distrust in those organisations.”

“Know from where your news comes. That’s very important.”

Both the fundamentals of Catholic teaching and of journalism and communication have shared priorities: “we seek truth, and we also verify truth,” said Bush.

“That has to be a priority when we go and we communicate. It’s a responsibility to communicate truthfully, to make sure the information we’re disseminating is truthful, it’s verified, that it’s critically appraised, before we start disseminating it,” he said.

“Otherwise we just become part of the problem.”

For Bush, it is hard to say whether the new video technology will fundamentally change the media environment or simply continue current trends.

People have become more savvy about relatively new technological hoaxes, such as scam emails promising money from a Nigerian prince, he noted.

“Nobody believes that kind of stuff anymore. So we do adapt,” Bush said. “At the same time, as these things become more sophisticated, particularly if they’re used by state actors or groups with a high level of understanding of what it takes to manipulate a society or a group, then we’ll see whether we can parse what’s real or not real.” – Kevin Jones, CNA, 25 Apr 2018

Catholic communicators urge greater respect in public discourse

Michael Warsaw at a Communication Seminar in Rome, Italy, 17-19 April 2018. Credit: Marina Testino/CNA

VATICAN CITY – This week, Catholic communicators gathered in Rome to discuss the need for more respectful dialogue in the public sphere, saying that fake news and polemics must be overcome with truth, mercy and openness.

When it comes to modern day public discourse, Irish Archbishop Eamon Martin said, “we have to be aware of our language, because nowadays people switch off, they don’t hear, and we cannot get the Gospel message out simply condemning everyone who lives their lives contrary to what we believe in.”

Now more than ever when emotions are high, polemics are strong, and digital communication is increasingly more impersonal, mutual respect is needed in order to effectively communicate with those we don’t agree with, both within the Church, and outside of it, he said.

This is also true “in the kind of culture wars which we are engaging in sometimes even within the Church; they simply drown out any opportunity for people to make that personal commitment to Christ, which is really what the Gospel is about.”

“This is a challenge for us within the Church, and it’s exemplified by blogs countering blogs, Twitter countering Twitter, where everyone is shouting and absolutely no one is hearing anything.”

The remedy, Martin said, is to focus, in every exchange, on communicating the fact that “God loves you, he loves you personally, he’s calling you to conversion in your own personal life story.”

Archbishop Martin spoke on the first day of an  17-19 April 2018 conference for Catholic communicators in Rome. Co-organised by the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross and EWTN, the three-day seminar was dedicated to the theme of “Dialogue, Respect and Freedom of Expression in the Public Arena.”

Speakers and panelists included media representatives and experts from around the world who touched on issues such as polarisation, fake news, defamation and how to promote values through the media.

Michael Warsaw, Chairman of the Board and CEO of EWTN Global Catholic Network, gave a keynote speech on fake news and the responsibility of journalists on the final day of the conference.

Warsaw pointed to a recent example of a fake story that gained a lot of steam during the US presidential election of 2016.

During the campaign season, a fake news site published an article titled “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement,” which gained more than 100,000 comments, shares, and reactions on Facebook alone, and nearly 1 million Facebook engagements, making it “the single biggest fake news hit of the US Election.”

Shortly after, another fake news article appeared saying Pope Francis had endorsed Hillary Clinton for president, he said, noting that it is thanks to articles like this that modern society has come to be known as the “post-truth” or “post-fact” world.

Warsaw cited various studies showing that consumers of fake news are no small minority, and, quoting the pope, said that because of this, journalists in particular are called to be “the protectors of news.”

“Pope Francis, in his 2018 message, rightly condemns that ‘spreading fake news can serve to advance specific goals, influence political decisions, and serve economic interests,’…But, the challenges facing journalism and the public at large today go deeper than the ‘fake news’ phenomenon,” he said.

Rather, the real crux of the matter is growing general distrust of media, as well as a loss of trust in data, analysis, and objective facts, he said.

Because of this, those who work in social communications must be offered ongoing formation, both spiritual and professional, so that both individual journalists and media outlets “become more trusted by the public, and are seen as objective and reliable.”

Quoting Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Social Communications, Warsaw said the most “radical antidote” to the phenomenon of fake news is “purification by the truth.”

“As Catholic communicators and media, we are called to do our part to be truth tellers,” he said, and “we must take heart in knowing that we are not the first Catholics to live in a ‘post truth’ era.”

In his comments to CNA, Archbishop Martin stressed the importance of fostering an environment where true and honest dialogue can take place, and where media can help “engage in a culture of encounter.”

“We meet people where they are at, some of whom are completely against what we stand for, others who are open to conversation,” he said, explaining that when things get heated, “pacifying” one’s tone is a good place to start in terms of having a fruitful exchange.

“I think this conference has courageously opened up a sort of middle-ground where we can engage in a type of court of the gentiles, where we enter that space in which there are some people who are diametrically opposed to what we stand for.”

And this, the archbishop said, can only happen “out of respect, and it can only happen when there is a culture of freedom to speak.”

For those involved in communication, “we c only hope that with the help of the Holy Spirit and by the grace of God, that we can invite people, that we can win them for Christ, by our witness, by our example, and by the strength and courage of our message.” – Elise Harrisan, CNA/EWTN News

Conference addresses Catholic journalism, fake news, and a ‘post-truth’ era

LOURDES, France – Last week hundreds of Catholic media experts from all over the world gathered to discuss the problem of “fake news” and the challenge of reporting in what has been dubbed by some as the “post-truth” era.

With the advent of the internet and a sharp rise in the number of media outlets going online, competition to be the first to report a story is becoming more and more fierce.

The result is often a mass production and consumption of information with few adequate systems of checks and balances to verify what is being published. Pressure is high to compromise fact-checking for the sake of staying on top of a rapidly changing news cycle. Some entities intentionally offer misleading information to promote a certain agenda or sway public opinion.

Fake news can be hard to recognise because it often contains elements of truth, but is mixed with inaccurate or partial facts. This has led to confusion and a mistrust of information and the institutions providing it, experts say.

An analysis of this malady and proposals for a possible remedy were precisely the topic of discussion during this year’s Saint Francis de Sales Days conference, which took place on 24-26 Jan 2018 in Lourdes.

The conference, titled “Media and Truth,” was co-organised by the Vatican’s Secretariat for Communications and French organisation the Federation of Catholic Media (FMC). Other entities, including nonprofit media organisation SIGNIS and the French bishops conference, also participated.

Speakers at the conference, who hold various positions in Catholic media, discussed the topic from philosophical, theological, political, economic and journalistic points of view.

Typically an event for French speaking media, this year the conference was open to international media and coincided with the Jan 24 publication of Pope Francis’ message for the World Day of Social Communications, which was dedicated to the topic of fake news.

In comments to CNA, Msgr Dario Edoardo Vigano, prefect of the Secretariat for Communications, said talking about fake news right now “is central because the panorama of media has changed.”

With traditional newspapers in crisis, he said, news is increasingly being spread by “a plethora of people who think of themselves as authoritative interpreters of contemporary life on the internet.”

This phenomenon, he said, “confuses presence, at times very widespread, with pertinence.” Because of this, addressing the problem of fake news “means having the journalistic profession at heart.”

Natasa Govekar, director of the Pastoral Theological Department of the Secretariat for Communications, said that while technology may appear to make communication easier than in past generations, “in reality it’s harder… because we are inundated with images, but without an education on images.”

“We don’t realise the power that they have and we perceive them as if there were just illustrations that accompany a text to make it more interesting,” she told CNA. “We don’t realise that they arrive much faster and much more directly than words,” and often words aren’t able “to ‘correct’ the choice of a mistaken image.”

Govekar, who spoke on the second day of the conference about the impact of images in communication, said Pope Francis is a prime example of how a picture can communicate more clearly than words.

She said whenever she looks at the Pope’s social media accounts, particularly his Instagram “Franciscus” profile, the comments always say things like “I willingly listen to your words because of how you said them,” or “I like to see your comments or a minute of your video because you always have this smile that captivates,” or “Even if I don’t understand your language, just the tone of your voice is consoling for me.”

“Even before understanding what he is saying and what he is inviting us to, we see it. The image, the gesture, speaks before the words arrive,” Govekar said, explaining that people don’t need to conduct a study on the image to understand what’s being communicated.

Helen Osman, president of SIGNIS, echoed Govekar’s sentiments. With the rise of digital media, she said, information can be spread more quickly than ever before, but “the challenge is to provide quality material that people find useful and helpful in their lives.”

Osman spoke to the conference about state of both secular and Catholic media in the United States, highlighting a decrease of trust in journalists. This, she said, is largely due to the fact that journalists are perceived to be out of touch with their audiences, and can also be attributed to social media being used to promote “yellow journalism.”

“There’s this growing acceptance or reference for conspiracy theories or concepts that aren’t even factually accurate,” Osman said, explaining that in her experience, she finds that this trend is often due to fear.

As Catholic journalists, “we know what answers those fears,” she said, so “why are we not presenting that in a way that makes sense to people and helps them sort through this?”

Other speakers also noted that the Catholic media have not been exempt from the troubling trends plaguing modern journalism.

In his opening speech, Vigano observed that Catholic media are not only victims of fake news, “but we are also authors,” even if unintentionally.

And sometimes, fake news is spread intentionally, when worldliness and the search for honour become a motivation, he said. “Fake news is often used to eliminate an enemy or, on the contrary but no worse, to valourise a person who may not have any human or professional maturity.”

In her comments to CNA, Govekar warned that digital platforms can be a new and effective way to share the Gospel, but can also be misused to promote agendas under the guise of evangelisation.

Likewise, Osman – who in her speech said Catholic media in the US at times tend to be overly apologetic and defensive in tone – said Catholic media can also fall victim to fake news and conspiracies.

“We’re human, so yes we struggle with that,” she said, adding that “it’s not easy, it’s not easy to hear someone say things or demonstrate beliefs that are in direct opposition to my beliefs.”

She cautioned against the assumption that “anyone who disagrees with the Church is to be demonized or cast out, or at the very least not heard.”

Pointing to the Pope’s message for the World Day of Communications, Osman said Francis continues to challenge Catholics in this area, particularly on the need to listen and dialogue with others.

Communications, she said, “is about listening and about trying to understand the other person. So perhaps we can take off the lens that ‘this is an attack on me’ and instead focus on the other person and say, help me understand why you think this way.”

To avoid fake news, “the first step is to lean in more, to listen more, and instead of feeling like we’ve got to counter every position or every new development.”

“It’s not a debate for me to win,” she said, but “it’s a moment for me to understand who you are.”

Similarly, Msgr Vigano, in his opening speech Jan 24, also highlighted dialogue and listening as the remedy to fake news.

“The most radical antidote is to allow oneself to be (purified) by the truth” and to have “the ability to listen,” which involves actively trying to understanding their perspective.

Communications, he said, “isn’t just a transmission of facts,” but a reciprocal exchange with others. Ultimately, it’s “an occasion to build bridges of peace.”

In his comments to CNA, Vigano said that to fight against fake news, Catholics can first of all avoid sharing news that is unfounded and unverified.

He stressed that problem of truth “is in all of society, not just among Catholics,” and said that members of the Church, “we have a greater responsibility” than non-believers to work for truth.

For her part, Govekar said sharing information and working in teams is an effective tool to avoid fake news. She noted that Pope Francis, in his message for communications day, invites journalists “to be guardians of the news.”

Communion and teamwork help with this, she said, because involving multiple people creates feedback and fosters dialogue.

To recognise fake news, Osman urged readers to “come at all information with a critical eye: who’s writing it, what is their motive, why is this important to me, how does it stack up against my experience?”

“I think it’s a matter of not reading something and saying ‘oh, obviously this is true,’ but to…verify everything. In other words, don’t assume that this person or this material is bad, but verify everything.” – CNA

The media navigate between lies and truth

Stephane Madaule, a writer in the La Croix International, gives his take on the media navigating between lies and truth in an article posted on 23 Nov 2017.

What do the media and social networks prefer: lies or the truth?

This is a question that can certainly be asked with regard to many media spaces. Indeed, sensationalist news is often more eye-catching than the truth. And it only serves to increase our appetites as consumers of information.

This stuff fills up blank spaces in the media agenda. At times, it obscures news that media outlets want to conceal. Fake news takes the place of real news.

According to news networks, information that is broadcast is more or less well controlled. Editorial teams are useful in separating the wheat from the chaff, even though it’s not always easy to come to unanimous decisions about the broadcasting of doubtful or erroneous news items.

The ethics of journalism and the credibility of news agencies are often effective in stopping the broadcasting of fake news. Nonetheless, the positions taken by news agencies in all media (written, televised or on the internet) do not necessarily prevent lapses from occurring.

On social networks, there is no control. All opinions, advice and certainties on any topic are available to anyone. It’s a source of information that has no rules or principles.

Only an adequate amount of awareness and education, and the application of a critical mindset, can help us to avoid being taken in by fake news that has no supporting evidence or that is deliberately misleading.

On social media, everyone is a broadcaster and his or her own editor. When these people are celebrities or represent a respectable institution or possess a certain credibility thanks to their position or status, things become all the more cloudy and complicated when they post fake news or misleading information – for example, on media such as Twitter.

In this kind of scenario, traditional media unfortunately have a propensity to pass on whatever happens to be all over social media that everyone is talking about. So the information or opinion becomes a given that is very difficult to refute. In fact, it immediately gains legitimacy – merely because so many people are reading it and relating to it.

To counter this, certain serious media outlets have devoted space and time to the decoding and critical analysis of fake news in order to refute it more effectively.

However, in economic terms, sensationalist, misleading and fallacious news often makes the front page – grabbing attention and the income that comes with it. Then, this fake news leads to the publication of a follow-up of analysis and debunking, which is, again, attention-grabbing and profitable.

What we can hope for is a media space free of scurrilous rubbish, a space where fake news doesn’t obscure the real news resulting in a cycle of endless publishing and debunking.

Clearly, lies are attention-grabbing. However, the truth must win in the long term, especially when it aims to disseminate real information to people – even if they are often gullible to conspiracy theories or lies intended to capture media space.

The most effective barrier against fake news and lies is made up of education, morality, ethics and editorial committees: credibility in the long term.

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