Facebook discovers new fakes that show evolution AI generated disinformation

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The accounts, including pages, groups and Instagram feeds meant to be seen in both the United States and Vietnam, presented a new wrinkle to researchers: fake profile photos generated with the help of artificial intelligence, reports The New York Times

Facebook said on Friday that it had removed hundreds of accounts with ties to the Epoch Media Group, parent company of the Falun Gong-related publication and conservative news outlet The Epoch Times.

The accounts, including pages, groups and Instagram feeds meant to be seen in both the United States and Vietnam, presented a new wrinkle to researchers: fake profile photos generated with the help of artificial intelligence, reports The New York Times.

The idea that artificial intelligence could be used to create wide-scale disinformation campaigns has long been a fear of computer scientists. And they said it was worrying to see it already being used in a coordinated effort on Facebook.

While the technology used to create the fake profile photos was most likely a far cry from the sophisticated AI systems being created in labs at big tech companies like Google, the network of fake accounts showed “an eerie, tech-enabled future of disinformation,” said Graham Brookie, director of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab.

Scientists have already shown that machines can generate images and sounds that are indistinguishable from the real thing or spew vast volumes of fake text, which could accelerate the creation of false and misleading information. 

This year, researchers at a Canadian company even built a system that learned to imitate the voice of the podcaster Joe Rogan by analyzing audio from his old podcasts. It was a shockingly accurate imitation.

The people behind the network of 610 Facebook accounts, 89 Facebook Pages, 156 Groups and 72 Instagram accounts posted about political news and issues in the United States, including President Trump’s impeachment, conservative ideology, political candidates, trade and religion.

“This was a large, brazen network that had multiple layers of fake accounts and automation that systematically posted content with two ideological focuses: support of Donald Trump and opposition to the Chinese government,” Brookie said in an interview.

The Atlantic Council’s lab and another company, Graphika, which also studies disinformation, released a joint report analyzing the Facebook takedown.

The Epoch Media Group denied in an email sent to The New York Times that it was linked to the network targeted by Facebook, and said that Facebook had not contacted the company before publishing its conclusions.

The people behind the network used artificial intelligence to generate profile pictures, Facebook said. They relied on a type of artificial intelligence called generative adversarial networks. These networks can, through a process called machine learning, teach themselves to create realistic images of faces, even though they do not belong to a real person.