The independent fact-checking organisation Full Fact has issued a warning about online scams after deepfake videos apparently showing Elon Musk promoting an investment project on the BBC were found to be circulating on Facebook.
Deepfakes are a type of synthetic media – images, video or audio that are manipulated or wholly generated by AI – used to deceive and manipulate people, and spread disinformation. They appear to show people saying and doing things that they didn’t say or do.
In these particular videos, which also featured the BBC’s Matthew Amroliwala and Sally Bundock, Musk appeared to discuss a new investment project that could net “British residents” “up to £5,700 a day”.
One of the posts included “an external link to a fake BBC News article about the alleged investment project”, with links to sign up for it. Entering your details, however, would hand your personal data to the criminals behind the scam.
It’s not clear where the videos originated, but one thing’s for sure: they never featured on the BBC. Despite this, they racked up more than 50,000 views between them before they were taken down.
According to the BBC, it is reasonably easy to identify the videos as fake thanks to some pronounced errors.
The on-screen text doesn’t match the BBC’s usual font, there are “spelling errors and odd phrasing”, words are mispronounced and there are “garbled sounds at the start of certain sentences”.
Most tellingly of all, a glitch in the video makes Musk appear to have two left eyes – one above the other.
Meanwhile, the popular YouTuber MrBeast has also featured in a recent deepfake scam, in which a manipulated video of him apparently offering TikTok users new iPhones for $2 (£1.65) has recently been circulating, despite TikTok’s ban on synthetic media.
How to spot a deepfake video
Dr Dominic Lees, an Associate Professor in Filmmaking and convenor of the University of Reading’s Synthetic Media Research Network, told Full Fact that it was easy to create deepfake videos with freely available voice cloning technology, which could be trained on “as little as 15 seconds of real speech”.
He said: “Low-grade versions of such voice cloning create very unnatural results, as we can hear in the fake version of Elon Musk. Viewers should always beware of online content – if it feels unnatural, then it is probably fake.”
However, as AI voice cloning software becomes more advanced and the sort of video editing technology that was once in the hands of Hollywood studios becomes more widely available to everyone, deepfake scams will only become more prevalent – and more successful.
All of this means it’s increasingly difficult to identify scams. However, there are still some steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling victim.
- Look for visual anomalies like blurring or juddering, or unusual audio cues, for instance a voice sounding distorted or robotic.
- Be sceptical about videos that seem designed to provoke an emotional response. Just as phishing emails often create a false sense of urgency to encourage victims to act quickly without thinking, deepfake videos aim to manipulate views into acting.
- Use fact-checking websites or other credible sources to check news stories or information in videos before sharing or acting on them.
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