Images and videos have long been manipulated to deceive, but the believability of recent deepfake videos highlights another threat that could evolve into a much larger problem

Manipulating images was commonplace long before photography entered the digital era. Whether it was to disguise wonky composition or to cut away something from the edge of the frame, photographers have long used the tricks of the darkroom to make us believe that an image was originally captured as it eventually appeared.

The editing process may be different today, but the tools that are used to carry this out have long been accessible to all. For all but complex editing, even a computer is now redundant as app-based editing and AI tools running on today’s powerful breed of smartphones and tablets achieve what would have been unthinkable ten years ago.

But while we’re used to the idea of online images not necessarily showing a scene or subject as it may have appeared in reality, it’s only in the past few years that video fakery has been so prominently discussed.

This has, of course, been spurred by the believability of many viral examples, such as recent videos that show what appears to be Tom Cruise playing golf and performing a magic trick. While undeniably impressive, other videos designed specifically to smear politicians and other public figures, and to undermine democratic processes, show just how easily these tools can be weaponized too.

Proving provenance

Clearly, some of these examples are intended to entertain rather than mislead us. But, collectively, they provide a backdrop for a handful of recent initiatives designed to provide greater clarity on the provenance of digital media.

Two of these are the Content Authenticity Initiative (CAI) and Project Origin. The former was launched in 2018 by Adobe, Twitter and The New York Times Company, with an initial mission of developing the industry standard for content attribution in order to help people determine what’s likely to be trustworthy. 

Project Origin, meanwhile, founded last year, brought together the BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Radio Canada, Microsoft and The New York Times Company, with a more targeted focus on news organizations. The similar aims of the two gave a logical basis for their collaboration on a