Dec 17, 2019

Exclusive: Facebook funding Reuters deepfakes course for newsrooms

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is spending six figures to fund a course on manipulated media and deepfakes for newsrooms, executives tell Axios. The course material has been developed by Reuters, and Facebook is funding its international expansion as a part of the Facebook Journalism Project.

Details: The free e-learning course, called "Identifying and Tackling Manipulated Media," seeks to help journalists globally learn how to identify photos or videos that have been altered to present inaccurate information.

  • It's available online only, and takes about 45 minutes to complete.
  • Reuters and Facebook will do events and panels in 2020 together around the course.

Be smart: Much of the course isn't focused on deepfakes specifically, but rather on the way manipulated media can be used to distort the facts. Deepfakes involve the use of artificial intelligence to create media that is doctored to look real; they are a subset of the much broader category of manipulated media, which is any media altered to change the factual record.

What they're saying: Hazel Baker, Reuters' head of user-generated content news-gathering, who created the course, says that the goal was to help newsrooms understand what they should be looking for.

  • "Ninety percent of manipulated media we see online is real video taken out of context used to feed a different narrative," says Baker, whose unit of 13 at Reuters specializes in verifying visual media. "Sometimes it's edited, but often it's not. I think that's quite an important starting point."

Between the lines: It's especially important that Reuters takes action on this topic, because the company is the world's largest multimedia news provider, says Jess April, director of strategic partnerships and program management of Reuters.

  • In total, Reuters has over 2,000+ media customers in 128 countries. It's available in 16 languages around the world.
  • The course is currently available in English, French, Spanish and Arabic. It plans to expand to Burmese, Mandarin, Danish, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish and Turkish.

The big picture: Facebook has invested a lot of resources in identifying deepfakes and manipulated video, but has been criticized for the way it enforces its deepfake policies.

  • In particular, critics focused on Facebook's decision to allow a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remain on its platform.
  • The Reuters course, ironically, uses the Pelosi video as an example of what newsrooms should be on the watch for.
  • In a statement, Julia Bain, who works on integrity partnerships at Facebook, says partnering with Reuters on the course is "an important step to help journalists spot this type of content so we can stop the spread of misinformation online.”

Go deeper: Adobe, Twitter, NYT launch effort to fight deepfakes by Axios' Ina Fried

Go deeper

Tech platforms struggle to police deepfakes

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Facebook, TikTok and Reddit all updated their policies on misinformation this week, suggesting that tech platforms are feeling increased pressure to stop manipulation attempts ahead of the 2020 elections.

Why it matters: This is the first time that several social media giants are taking a hard line specifically on banning deepfake content — typically video or audio that's manipulated using artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning to intentionally deceive users.

Facebook changing deepfake policies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Facebook is tightening its policies on "manipulated media," including deepfakes, Monika Bickert, the company's vice president of global policy management, says in a blog post.

Why it matters: Facebook has been criticized for the way it enforces its policies on deepfakes (AI-generated audio and video) and other misleading media. In particular, critics took aim at the tech giant's decision to allow a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remain on its platform last year.

Go deeperArrowJan 7, 2020

Democrats unimpressed with Facebook's new deepfake policy

Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook, testifies during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in September 2019. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Lawmakers questioned Facebook's new deepfake policy at a hearing Wednesday, with Democrats arguing the social media company's plan for addressing manipulated video does not go far enough.

Why it matters: Many policymakers already say tech giants have proven they're not up to the task of regulating themselves. Dissatisfaction with Facebook's plans for handling deepfakes will only further fuel calls for Washington to step in.

Go deeperArrowJan 8, 2020