Deepfakes very convincing, effective in influencing people, Amsterdam researchers found

Deepfake videos – videos that were manipulated to replace a person with someone else’s likeness – are effective in influencing people to think more negatively about that person. And even relatively bad deepfakes can be very convincing, according to a study by the University of Amsterdam (UvA), NOS reports.

With a deepfake video, you can for example record a video of you saying sexist statements, and then impose a celebrity’s likeness over you in the video so that it looks like the celebrity said those things. Or you can take a video of the celebrity, and manipulate it to make them say things they never said. For their study, the Amsterdam researchers created a deepfake video of former CDA leader Sybrand Buma and showed it to 278 people.

The group that saw the deepfake video thought more negatively about Buma afterwards than the group that watched the original video of him. The attitudes towards the CDA as a whole remained almost the same in both situations.

Only 8 of the 140 people who saw the deepfake video raised doubts about its authenticity, UvA researcher Tom Dobber said to NOS. “And this one was not even perfect, you could see the lips moving crazily every now and then. It is remarkable that people fell for it completely.”

The researchers also looked at the effects of so-called microtargeting – showing the video to a specific target group. They found that religious Christians who voted CDA reacted much more strongly to the video than the rest of the participants.

“We have shown that there is a very big effect on that very specific group of Christians, but we didn’t realize that until we did the research. We expected all Christians to react strongly to that, but that was not the case,” Dobber said. “You therefore have to wonder whether it is realistic that deepfakes can be abused in this particular way.”

The researchers also warned that the danger of deepfake videos is not yet in sight, because the technology is still developing.

Below is an example of a deepfake video, in which Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan’s faces are imposed over Bill Hader’s face as he does impressions of them.