True lies: stills of a deepfake video of Barack Obama created by researchers in 2017
University of Washington

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but there is nothing that persuades quite like an audio or video recording of an event. At a time when partisans can barely agree on facts, such persuasiveness might seem as if it could bring a welcome clarity. Audio and video recordings allow people to become firsthand witnesses of an event, sparing them the need to decide whether to trust someone else’s account of it. And thanks to smartphones, which make it easy to capture audio and video content, and social media platforms, which allow that content to be shared and consumed, people today can rely on their own eyes and ears to an unprecedented degree.

Therein lies a great danger. Imagine a video depicting the Israeli prime minister in private conversation with a colleague, seemingly revealing a plan to carry out a series of political assassinations in Tehran. Or an audio clip of Iranian officials planning a covert operation to kill Sunni leaders in a particular province of Iraq. Or a video showing an American general in Afghanistan burning a Koran. In a world already primed for violence, such recordings would have a powerful potential for incitement. Now imagine that

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  • ROBERT CHESNEY is James A. Baker III Chair and Director of the Robert Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin.
  • DANIELLE CITRON is Morton and Sophia Macht Professor of Law at the University of Maryland and Affiliate Fellow at the Yale Information Society Project.
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