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Villasenor on Strategies to Guard Against ‘Deepfakes’

Public Policy Professor John Villasenor spoke to the Brookings Cafeteria podcast about strategies that voters and other consumers of digital media can adopt to guard against “deepfakes” — videos manipulated with artificial intelligence technology to deceive, parody or, sometimes, educate. “Anybody who has a computer and access to the Internet is in a position to produce deepfakes,” Villasenor said, but he added that the technology to detect the doctored videos is also quickly evolving. He urged consumers of digital media to “unlearn what we’ve learned since we were all small, which is usually seeing is believing. … Deepfakes scramble that understanding.” Even if a video is clearly fake, he said, “the visual imagery is very powerful and so I think it’s a big concern.” Villasenor is a professor of management, law and electrical engineering, in addition to public policy. He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

 

NSF Grant Funds New Approach to Analyzing News Data

The National Science Foundation has awarded a UCLA research team more than $944,000 to develop a framework for integrating massive amounts of data from several types of news sources. The cross-campus collaboration between the Department of Communication and the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs will produce a database that analyzes text, images, video and audio from print, television and online media.  “No one has attempted to merge different sources of social and mass media data into one database,” said Assistant Professor of Communication Jungseock Joo, the principal investigator. Using cutting-edge computational methods, the team will build a system to automatically evaluate the data to identify topics, actors, events, sentiments and other large-scale patterns. The team includes UCLA Luskin’s Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld, an assistant professor of public policy who has studied vast troves of social media data in his research into subnational conflict. Steinert-Threlkeld said the new tool will enable researchers, students, policymakers, politicians and ordinary citizens to learn more about how information is disseminatedThe team, which includes UCLA Communication faculty members Francis Steen and Tim Groeling, will collaborate with Stanford University’s Jennifer Pan, a specialist on social media data from China. — Mary Braswell

Jungseock Joo

Zachary Steinert-Threlkeld

Villasenor Writes About Facebook, Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity

UCLA Luskin Public Policy Professor John Villasenor authored a Forbes story on the cybersecurity implications of a court case involving Facebook and the U.S. government. At issue is whether the government can compel Facebook to break the encryption of voice communications made through its Messenger app. Law enforcement is seeking the communications as part of a probe into the MS-13 gang, Reuters reported. Since Facebook is not a traditional telecommunications carrier, Villasenor wrote, “there is the question of whether the government has the legal authority to order Facebook to wiretap Messenger audio exchanges.” He added, “Regardless of what one thinks of the U.S. government’s assertions regarding a right to access the audio exchanges in this particular case, if Facebook is forced to comply (and shows that it is technically able to do so), other governments—including authoritarian governments—will take notice.” Villasenor also commented in a Washington Post article about the brewing court battle.