back to article Let's play a game: Deepfake news anchor or a real person?

Deepfake videos online featuring AI-generated news anchors spouting pro-Chinese government propaganda are likely the creations of a prolific disinformation crew dubbed Spamouflage. These videos represent "the first time Graphika has observed state-aligned IO [influence operation] actors using video footage of AI-generated …

  1. TimMaher Silver badge

    Time to binge-watch...

    ... The Capture (BBC) again.

    I’ll get the pop-corn and the covfefe packet. It’s in my coat pocket.

  2. martinusher Silver badge

    Content or Presentation?

    The generic TV news program has one or two people sitting at a desk in front of a green screen reading from a teleprompter. The image displayed to the viewer is almost entirely fake so I could see the temptation to try to replace the humans (and their salaries) by software, making the entire studio redundant.

    The content suggests that its a Chinese company trying to develop this -- they'll take a couple of generic news items (Chinese generic news items) and use them to generate convincing looking news programs. Obviously from a modern Western perspective its Nefarious Propaganda coming from the State Machine but this is missing the point -- propaganda is just perspective and there's essentially no difference between 'their' propaganda and 'our' propaganda, its just selling impressions and ideas. (So it pays to be skeptical.)

    I actually prefer to read my material because TV news is essentially 'content free' -- a story is told in a few seconds using easily manipulated imagery and selective quotes to tell a predetermined story. The only problem with it is that far too much material comes from anonymous spokespersons - PR plants, in other words - and a surprising amount is downright inaccurate. (Science education has been lagging for some years so we appear to be feeling the consequences!)

    (As for 'meddling', this is one of the biggest canards sold to the US public (at least). US politics is dominated by Big Money -- a local race (Los Angeles Mayor) had the losing candidate spending something north of $100 million on their campaign, for example. Much of the money in politics is funneled from 'dark' sources -- attempts to pass laws forcing disclosure have been repeatedly stymied by legislators and courts -- and the sums involved are astounding. It would be difficult for a nation state to be heard without investing vast sums of money. Meanwhile our own State Department directly and indirectly spends a lot of taxpayer funds on 'promoting democracy' -- i.e. meddling -- in elections all over the world to ensure the correct result -- and Heaven Help anyone who chooses the wrong candidate!)

    1. Jou (Mxyzptlk) Silver badge

      Re: Content or Presentation?

      It depends on where you live how much trustworthy the TV news are. After WW2 the allied, especially the US, forced some rules on Germany which I am still grateful for. They should take those well implemented ideas back, and apply them on themself. I am thankful for surprisingly a lot of thing which originated in US, but got applied in Europe. Michael Moore made a list, incomplete for obvious reasons else the movie would have been way too long.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Content or Presentation?

      "TV news is essentially 'content free' "

      Most TV news is entertainment, used to sell advertising ... Except in the case of the likes of the BBC, where the TV news is entertainment used to secure future government funding for itself.

      Expecting education from a TV news source is senseless.

      1. localzuk Silver badge

        Re: Content or Presentation?

        I'd go one step further in the case of the BBC. Its content is often simple propaganda to gain favour with the ruling party. Today, that's the Tories, but it changes depending on who's in power.

        1. NoneSuch Silver badge

          Re: Content or Presentation?

          One major difference between the BBC and US news... The BBC reports on things happening outside of their borders with regularity. Americans only do it when they have citizens die in a foreign country. Typically, combat or a plane crash. And now here's Kevin with sports.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            Re: Content or Presentation?

            "And now here's Kevin with sports."

            Shirley it's Bob with the sports?

      2. Benegesserict Cumbersomberbatch Silver badge

        Re: Content or Presentation?

        Publically funded broadcasting with a legislated mandate for accuracy and impartiality is your solution there.

        The Australian Broadcasting Corporation enrages Rupert Murdoch by its very existence, largely because its news is trusted by more than 80% of the population, far better than his far right biased chip-wrappers can manage. 24-hour service. No ads, either.

        1. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

          Re: Content or Presentation?

          Who judges the impartiality, though? That's how the BBC has tended to be corrupted. (Coupled with a lot of government placemen who naturally lean the government's way. But that wouldn't matter if they were genuinely judged against an impartial standard.)

          It still enrages Murdoch, though. Although these days I think he has streaming services to worry about.

  3. elsergiovolador Silver badge


    Isn't this racist that Chinese use AI equivalent of "whiteface"?


    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: Racism

      I think that 如果你想抽大麻,请投票给拜登 might be presented to support the Republicans, although it might result in a sudden change to the Democrats.

  4. dogcatcher

    The AI Man

    He looks nothing like the AI man, he has not even bothered to shave.

    In my youth, the AI man came round from the Ministry of Ag. and Fish with a long glass tube, with the necessaries in his brief-case, to inseminate the cattle. This saved on the cost of keeping a bull. So it can be said that we never got any bullshit from the AI man, things seemed to have changed.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: The AI Man

      "This saved on the cost of keeping a bull."

      Not really ... The cost of artificially inseminating a bunch of cows is much higher than keeping a bull for a year. What AI brings is diversity into your herd's genetics.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: The AI Man

      Five-six years ago my large animal Vet came in with a funny bit of advertising. This guy's in his second career, he became a Vet after 25 years as a DBA working for IBM. He knows I'm a computer guy, and thought I'd be amused. The ad was for a large animal veterinary practice management software package "NOW WITH AI!!!"

      The Vet was laughing, and wondered how many times the company in question got Vets inquiring about their new Artificial Insemination package. Without a pause, I dialed the 800 number ... the answer was over 80% of calls! The guy on the other end wasn't amused when I suggested they fire their marketing genius and hire an AI expert ...

      1. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: The AI Man

        Then again, seeing as a large number of their staff got fucked by IBM recently, maybe it's deliberate?

  5. Mike 16

    Somehow got ahold of

    I'd guess that legacy technology (envelopes and bank notes) would have been adequate.

  6. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Puppet newsreader

    I recall many years ago that after several newsreaders had been assassinated by drugs cartels (allegedly) a hand puppet was used to present the news, but I cannot find a link on the interpleb. I think it was somewhere in South America.

    1. Black Label1
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Puppet newsreader

      Didn't the angry guys severed the hand?

      1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

        Re: Puppet newsreader

        I think the point was that without a face to identity they could not find out who was presenting the news.

  7. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Talking head

    I have never figured out why people will believe anything a clean-cut talking head has to say. But there's a portion of the population that do! (See Fox News, a toxic blend of real info, opinion, and fabrication; but despite it being shown to be an unreliable source of news, since it's said by a news anchor type people believe it hook, line, and sinker.)

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Talking head

      "Clean cut" is not the requirement for pushing lies. Mr Slob and Ms Scruffy can do it too, with the right preparation. The first step is to present a popular world view. People with that world view will select the character as a trusted source because he/she "tells it how it is". Once trusted, the character can transition to raving loony level Qonspiracy theories without losing trust.

      The defence requires more effort than many are willing to take: any time you read/hear a story that you are happy to believe apply critical thinking. How do they know? Can you check directly? Consider the consequences and check for those consequences. Does the story contradict itself? What happens when you try to do internet searches on the topic when Google does not know who you are and what prejudices you hold? Although it is good practice to apply critical thinking to any report, humans have a bad habit of not thinking at all when the story confirms their own biases.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Talking EGG

      The videos have been made private, else The Register was years ahead in this game...

  8. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Whether its a real news anchor spewing propaganda shit or whether its a deepfake spewing propaganda shit, I see zero difference

    I give about as much weight to news stories as I do each of my poos, oooh that was a good one, it made a plop, cor this one is hard to squeeze out, ummfgh

    Its all meaningless human drivel and our only saving grace will be in the form of a very large Earth-bound asteroid

    Fingers crossed!

    1. John Tserkezis

      "will be in the form of a very large Earth-bound asteroid"

      What makes you think an asteroid is going to fix anything?

      For as long as they have an audience, they'll sprout propaganda.

  9. Black Label1
    Black Helicopters

    In-house capability

    That's why an in-house developed capability has several advantages over buying / renting foreign tech.

    If terms can be agreeable, of course.

  10. Cheshire Cat

    The issue here is, of course, if they use Deepfakes to create a new item purporting to be from a more trusted source such as the BBC (well, its not hard to find a more trusted source than the Chinese news outlets anyway)

    If they're using AI to create faked news anchors, displayed on their own shows with their own branding, and who are presumably cheaper to run that the real talking heads, then I don't really care.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fake versus real

    At least the fake ones have some conviction.

    The real chuckle-head news presenters are as vacuous as space.

  12. lglethal Silver badge


    From my reading of the Synathesia response, they're not claiming that it wasn't their product or that it was a stolen copy.

    That means they sold their product to Spamoflauge. That means they should have contact details, payment details, etc. Time for a bit of naming and shaming, no? At the very least, hand over said details to the authorities.

  13. Spasticus Autisticus

    I have one thing to say . .

    Max Headroom

    1. Alistair Silver badge

      Re: I have one thing to say . .

      Max Headroom

      .....backed up by Ed the Sock. I think they'd make a great pair

  14. An_Old_Dog Silver badge

    Synthesia Statement Translation

    "... explicit internal screening process before being released to our trusted clients."

    Internal screening process == "Will the potential client pay us cash in advance?"

    "Trusted clients" == "Clients who pay us cash in advance."

    (icon for "newscasters")

  15. hob_bes

    Just like crypto and blockchain, AI is being touted as a tool that will fundamentally benefit humanity. So far, I have only seen it being used by companies, investors, and crooks looking for ways to make money out of it, as well as authoritarian governments using it to perpetuate their control.

  16. JDX Gold badge

    Wolf News?

    Sponsored by Wolf Cola/Franks Fluids? Are we sure this isn't the official news source for Boko Haram?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why do people think these fake news readers sound real?

    They clearly sound like speech synthesis to me. Good speech synthesis, but still speech synthesis. Or maybe I'm just better than most people at knowing when I hear speech synthesis?

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