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Deepfake Journalist Is a Terrifying Sign of Things to Come

It’s almost impossible to tell, but the man featured in the photos below doesn’t exist. He is a deepfake, a persona created by a computer algorythim. However, the articles this “journalist” published in several popular newspapers are very real, and a sign of things we can expect from a fast-evolving AI.

Oliver Taylor first got the attention of international news agency Reuters after being alerted about him by London Mazen Masri about an article Taylor had written about him and his wife, Palestinian rights campaigner Ryvka Barnard, in which they were described as “known terrorist sympathizers”. The couple were taken aback by the allegation, especially since it came from a a university student. But the more Masri looked at Taylor’s profile photo, the more convinced he was that something was off about him…

Photo: Cyabra/Reuters

Mazen Masri contacted Reuters about the mysterious Oliver Taylor, and the news agency started an investigation which turned up some pretty interesting results. The University of Birmingham, which he was supposed to be a student of has no record of him ever attending, his online presence is pretty dubious, with his only footprint being a Quora account which was only active for two days in March, and his only available profile photo appears to be an AI-generated deepfake.

“The distortion and inconsistencies in the background are a tell-tale sign of a synthesized image, as are a few glitches around his neck and collar,” digital image forensics pioneer Hany Farid told Reuters. Artist Mario Klingemann, who regularly uses deepfakes in his work, also agreed that Taylor’s photo has “all the hallmarks” of a deepfake.

Reuters’s investigation could not uncover who this Oliver Taylor really is, and Dan Brahmy, whose tech company Cyabra specializes in detecting deepfakes confirmed that people trying to find the origin of such photos are “left searching for a needle in a haystack – except the needle doesn’t exist”.

Photo: B A/Pixabay

But just because Oliver Taylor doesn’t seem to exist as a real person doesn’t mean he can do serious harm as an online persona. He has had articles published in well-known news outlets like The Jerusalem Post ot Times of Israel, despite never meeting anyone at these newspapers face to face.

Editors at the Jerusalem Post and The Algemeiner told Reuters that they published his articles after he pitched them stories over email. He didn’t ask for payment for his work and they didn’t take any steps to vet his identity. “We’re not a counterintelligence operation,” one editor-in-chief said…

Although Oliver Taylor’s articles didn’t have the highest engagement, they are still very dangerous because they can spread disinformation from behind a realistic mask that is becoming increasingly difficult to spot as fake.

Photo: Cyabra/Reuters

Sadly, Oliver Taylor is not a one-off. Last week, The Daily Beast exposed an entire network of deepfake journalists spreading propaganda online. So if you thought “don’t believe everything you read on the internet” was true before, it’s about to become even more so.

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