An image from a video suggesting that Julian Assange is dead and has been replaced by a CGI model.Storm Watch/YouTubeMost people trust what they watch — but that won't always be the case. Tech is being developed that will make it easy to create fake video footage of public figures or audio of their voice. The developments aren't perfect yet, but they threaten to turbocharge "fake news" and boost hoaxes online. In years to come, people will need to be far more skeptical about the media they see.
LONDON — Late last year, some WikiLeaks supporters were growing concerned: What had happened to Julian Assange?
The then-45-year-old founder of the anti-secrecy publisher was no stranger to controversy. Since 2012, he has sheltered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in Knightsbridge, London, following allegations of sexual assault. (He denies them and argues the case against him is politically motivated.) But the publication of leaked emails from Democratic Party officials in the run-up to the US presidential election saw Assange wield unprecedented influence while at the centre of a global media firestorm.
A definitely alive Assange, standing on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.PA ImagesAfter the election, though, suspicions were growing that something had happened to him. Worried supporters highlighted his lack of public appearances since October and produced exhaustive timelines detailing his activities and apparent "disappearance." They combined their efforts to solve the mystery on the Reddit community r/WhereIsAssange.
Video interviews and photos of Assange were closely scrutinised amid speculation that they might have been modified with computer-generated imagery — or faked entirely, as at least one YouTube analysis alleged.
"We need to look at the many glitches in that interview, and there were many for sure," one amateur sleuth wrote on Reddit. "Either terrible editing went on or CGI or what...