So-called fake news has been one of the hottest topics for the last year, and platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have working on addressing threats posed by disinformation. At Facebook’s developer conference earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg said that the platform would “never be unprepared again” for things like the interference of Russian trolls during the last US elections.

But even as these platforms prepare to identify false and misleading posts and articles, disclose the payers of political ads, and generally do everything they can to improve things, technology is, as usual, outpacing even the tech industry.

Enter Deepfakes

The next form of disinformation is already here, and although it’s not quite perfect yet, the technology for videos that have been so expertly manipulated as to look completely believable is advancing so rapidly that experts say it won’t be long before it is making regular appearances in attempts to influence peoples thoughts and feelings.

Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, spoke to CNN about his research into what is being called “deepfakes,” saying that “the opportunity for malicious liars is going to grow by leaps and bounds.”

Social media platforms will be natural targets for deepfakes, where video is often posted as absolute truth that something happened, but so far, none of them have been prepared to discuss the issue in anything but the vaguest of ways.

How Do They Do It?

These fake videos have become known as “deepfakes” due to the use of deep learning, a form of machine learning heavily used in the development of artificial intelligence, which is used to intelligently add anybodies face, and voice, to video.

So far, (outside of research) this technology has primarily (and often badly) been used for things like inserting celebrities into porn. But in a potentially alarming glimpse of what may well be coming, Buzzfeed posted a video earlier this year showing what appears to be Barack Obama mocking Donald Trump.

The video quickly revealed that despite looking like Obama, it was actually his face superimposed onto footage of filmaker Jordan Peele, using deepfake technology. Click here to see the video.

Coming Soon To Social Media Near You

According to experts who have been studying the technology, fake videos will be almost indistinguishable from the real thing within the next 12 months, and according to the chief technologist at the Centre for Social Media Responsibility, “it’s very likely that there won’t be any infrastructure in place” at social media companies to combat deepfakes, especially given that they are still trying to deal with 2016-era misinformation.

As things stand, and even without the technology being perfected yet, it’s already quite difficult for deepfakes to be detected. According to CNN, the Pentagon has been researching this for several years already, and a researcher at the Carnegie Mellon University has had some success by analysing the pulse of people in deepfake demonstration videos. Another tell-tale is regular blinking by the person shown.

Whatever happens with these deepfakes, I’m sure that their existence, and probably increasing proliferation, will at the very least create social media issues for some time to come.

So just remember…seeing is not always believing in this digital age.