Some of a company’s most embarrassing moments can be traced back to a social media faux pas. Whether it was an errant tweet sent from the wrong account or an honest, yet thoughtless mistake, social media can be the vehicle for wrecking a company’s image. Social media can also be the tool by which that image is restored.
In 2017, athletic shoe company Adidas tried to send a heartfelt congratulations to everyone who finished the Boston Marathon. But instead of calling them ‘finishers,’ Adidas called them ‘survivors,’ which came off as tone-deaf after the 2013 marathon bombing that killed five people, and injured more than 260 others. Adidas immediately took to Twitter to apologize, and its customers were quick to forgive.
Another instance in which social media was used to put out a corporate fire also came in 2017. Shea Moisture, a hair care company catering mostly to women of color, decided to expand its clientele with a new ad campaign featuring different types of hair. Except that Shea failed to acknowledge its initial customer base by leaving out images of black women, or women of color. The backlash was immediate, and Shea Moisture issued this blunt apology via Twitter, admitting that it, “f-ed up.”
This is incredibly dangerous territory, this Deep Fake stuff. I don’t think I can overstate how, as a journalist, this disturbs me. As a gatekeeper for information, Deep Fakes take my ability, or inability, to trust video and soundbites to a whole new level.
So, what should be done? As a staunch offender of the First Amendment, I can’t endorse a ban on Deep Fakes. It’s a means of expression, and handled responsibly, a creative and entertaining one. But we live in an age when people and groups inspired by fervor and maliciousness will stoop to any means to add to their ranks. This is when Deep Fakes are at their most dangerous.
I think the creators of Deep Fakes should at least be required to identify their work as such. The manipulation of video and audio is tantamount to forgery through multimedia. If you create Deep Fakes in secret, you should be punished as a forger.
For this blog post, I set out to perform a little experiment. I pulled up the newspaper’s website, dallasnews.com, then opened another window and searched Amazon for something unusual – toothpaste. I wanted to see if an add for toothpaste would appear after I refreshed dallasnews.com.
It didn’t, but something else did happen that kind of proved my point. An add for my apartment building in Sarasota, Florida did appear. You had to scroll quite a ways to see it, but it was there — luxury living in Downtown Sarasota at the Elan Rosemary!
Does this necessarily bother me, that The Dallas Morning News knows where I live, and sends me ads that might cater to that location? No, it doesn’t. What bothers me is the slippery slope ahead in the name of personalized consumerism. Where’s the line between convenience and intrusion? I don’t think it’s been established yet, and until it is I’d prefer The Dallas Morning News and other outlets get up and out of my business.
The next big, global showdown is happening right now, and it’s taking place on the internet. The CNBC article from February 3, 2019 outlines how the U.S.A. and China have become the online superpowers and are dividing the world wide web into the ‘splinternet.’ In fact, the two sides often mirror each other. The U.S. has Amazon, China has Alibaba. The U.S. has Google, China has Baidu.
The article is written from an interview with Kaifu Lee, the CEO of a China-based venture capital firm. Lee has particular insight because of his previous role as head of Google in China. Lee says both countries can claim victory in various aspects of the internet, but that looking ahead in five years the split in influence will be fifty-fifty. This particular article addressed a possible division of access and innovation, but later focused on the development of Artificial Intelligence, or AI. Lee says that the U.S. and China are the undisputed leaders in AI development, but that China will eventually take the lead. “It’s (China) arguably ahead of U.S. in some areas behind in others, maybe neck and neck. But at the current trajectory, China will probably be ahead of U.S. in five years,” Lee said.
Considering the main source of this article is a Chinese business leader, you have to ask if an interview with an American tech giant would read the same. While Lee credits the U.S. with being a leader in the past, his conclusion that China will leap forward with innovation has to be viewed through the lens of someone who has a vested interest in China winning the war of the splinternet. We also know that free speech is not a guarantee in China as it is in the U.S., so there may be some pressure to propagandize his conclusions regarding the strides his country is making online.
So what does this mean? It means the World Wide Web may be a misnomer, in that the internet won’t be so global anymore. In the twitter video, Lee says websites and apps produced by the Chinese won’t be able to talk to U.S. technology or users, and vice versa. It means the possible weaponization of information, as advances in technology become the new warheads of destruction. It means a lessening chance for global solutions to global problems if the two superpowers turn the internet into a competition.
This article paints a grim picture of the internet’s future, and while we’ve looked at the potential bias of the source, Lee is backed by facts. A Wall Street Journal article published on February 9, 2019 interviewed Tom Pellman, a director for an international risk advisory firm who spent a decade in Beijing. While Pellman is quoted as saying he hated the censorship behind the so-called Great Firewall in China, “When I came back to the U.S. it was like coming back to the Stone Age,” he said. “Not being able to use WeChat (an app that can do multiple tasks), everything felt just old fashioned.”