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5 ways to spot a Deepfake

Wed 20 May 2020 | Jarrod Overson

Can you tell Deepfakes from the real thing? Start practicing your sharp eyes now

Concerns about Deepfakes are nothing new, but the technology has advanced far faster than many anticipated and has given rise to a medium that’s terrifying in its potential.

Though watching Jim Carrey’s face on Allison Brie’s body is, admittedly, delightful, the implications for forgery are sobering.

Consider, for instance, the recent Deepfake using Vladimir Putin’s face over MIT Technology Review’s editor-in-chief Gideon Lichfield’s body. Though it’s clear that Putin himself isn’t being interviewed, it isn’t a bad effort. It also doesn’t take a big imaginative leap to envision how the technology can be further enhanced and used with nefarious intent.

In the meantime, here are five useful tips to separate digital sophistry from the real thing:

Note resolution and quality differences between facial components and the rest of the video.

Sources are often higher quality than destination videos, leading to strangely high-definition faces on top of lower-definition bodies and backgrounds. This is especially apparent in the Steve Buscemi/Jennifer Lawrence demo that went viral. Note the fuzziness of the Golden Globe Awards background compared to Steve Buscemi’s eerily vivid face.

Watch for frames where the face is obscured or at a sharp angle

This often results in blurrier artifacts or inconsistent motion, which is indicative of a Deepfake. A great example of this is the Jim Carrey Deepfake of Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Inconsistent motion is especially visible while delivering the famous, “Here’s Johnny!” line.

Be wary of inconsistently scaled faces

Deepfakes with multiple camera angles may scale or morph the face differently to achieve believability in each scene. This will result in faces of different scales across the whole video. Check out a gloriously weird Sylvester Stallone Terminator 2 Deepfake for a good demonstration of the scaling problem.

Keep an eye on inconsistent border features

Facial components on the border (chin, eyebrows, cheekbones, facial hair, freckles/birthmarks) may alternate between the original and the replacement. Any inconsistency there is indicative of a Deepfake. For example, take a look at this Deepfake of Bill Hader and Tom Cruise. It’s very well-done, but the Deepfake is given away by inconsistent cheekbones and jawline.

Look out for inconsistent skin tones/”shimmering”

Matching the skin tone and facial movement, especially at the border, is difficult and gives away Deepfakes quickly. The recent Jim Carrey/Alison Brie demo showcases the problems with skin shimmering.

Even if these techniques don’t last, they are helpful examples you can use to train your suspicion meter early. Deepfakes will certainly progress in quality, and their proliferation is guaranteed, so it’s up to you to develop an investigative mindset. Blindly trusting media is negligence.

Start practicing your sharp eyes now so they can be better prepared for the Deepfake future that’s just around the corner, and better distinguish fact from fiction.

Experts featured:

Jarrod Overson

Principal Technical Evangelist
F5 Networks


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