The “Proven Proof”


“If there is no video evidence at least it is not credible.” Eva, 7 year old, spoke excitedly about the great news that had hit the campsite: Lynn and Leo had kissed! Someone had said they had seen them, now everyone was talking about it, but Eva demanded the proven proof! The video!

It was rumored that someone had filmed them but Lynn and Leo, very embarrassed, had done everything to make the evidence disappear. The word of a self-styled eyewitness was worth nothing! Eva, without video, would not have believed anything or anyone.

10 years had passed since that day, Eva still remembered it as it was yesterday. At that time two strange figures who called themselves hackers, but who looked rather like acrobats or jesters, had long teased her for this belief that the only guarantee of truth could be given by a video. She liked them but they had seemed a little crazy. What better guarantee than a video to witness a fact of gossip, a tragedy or a betrayal? Only today, after all those years, she was clearly understanding that a video can’t prove anything…

On TikTok there was a video of her making out with a tattooed guy. Max, her fiancée, had immediately blocked her on all social networks, he no longer answered her on the phone and did not even reply to text messages. Her profile was overrun with comments from haters who insulted her for cheating on her fiancée.

Eva didn’t really expect all this attention. Of course she was very popular among her friends and had 2K of contacts between TikTok and Instagram. That damned video, posted by a profile of an anonymous follower, was persecuting her, she received insulting messages even from people she didn’t know!

Eva could no longer contact Max (her fiancée) and her friends made a square around him: “What did you expect,” said Cindy, her best friend, “but what were you thinking, kissing that guy! And by the way, who the hell was he?”

“That’s the point! I don’t know Cindy! I don’t know him, I swear to you, I never kissed him! I’m not the one, I swear to you!!!” Cindy thought that her friend had gone too far at some party, but Eva reassured her: “Look, no matter how drunk I can be, I always remember everything! I swear it’s not me!”

The similarity, however, was more than impressive… Cindy and Eva were watching the video together again, that was her… How could this have happened?

“And then it’s just a kiss!” Eva said, “But can you imagine if it had been porn?”

“Wait,” said Cindy, “it happened to Harry Potter too, Emma Watson, do you remember? At one point there were her porn videos online,”

“Yes, but can you see Emma Watson doing porn?”

“Exactly!” Cindy replied, “Let me check.”

They did some research: keyword “emma watson fake porn” and they came across the world of deepfakes. They couldn’t believe it… Eva was the victim of a deepfake. It looked like something ultra-sci-fi that concerned only the big stars and instead here it was… something absurd touching their life… The video was fake, generated by a program fed by the many videos that Eva had circulated on social profiles.

She thought back to her words as a child: “If there is no video evidence at least it is not credible.” What naivety. At the moment she was the only one to know that the kiss was not true, that there had been no kiss, but everyone believed the video more than her words. Except for her friend Cindy, of course, but without the “proven proof”, who else would have given her credit? The words she said as a child now turned against her. How could she recover Max’s trust and, above all, her online reputation?

A Word to the Hacker

Deepfakes are synthetic media generated by software that make use of machine learning. At the dawn of the Great Internet Plague, the practice of deepfake was becoming increasingly widespread. The term deepfakes was coined in 2017 on the Reddit wall, it was the nickname of an anonymous producer of fake videos.

To generate deepfakes you just needed the right software and a large archive of photos and videos of the victim. With that it was possible to produce absolutely realistic video material where the victim did, or more often said, things that otherwise he/she would never have said or done. Deepfakes circulate videos of various characters from a political scene saying things they had never actually said. It happened to Barak Obama, Theresa May, Donald Trump and Adolf Hitler.

At the same time the phenomenon of porn deepfakes exploded: Scarlett Johansson, Katy Perry and Natalie Portman. Nobody was safe, not even Nicolas Cage, who was one the the actors most popularly targeted and appeared in hundreds of scenes from different TV series and films (not different from reality, huh?).

Lawyers had become busy right away, but it was difficult to limit the damage of a deepfake once it was released on the net. The state of California declared deepfake videos illegal at the end of 2019, but it seemed impossible to enforce such a law. Software development companies scrambled to propose solutions to stem the phenomenon, starting with the identification (deepfake detection). It was mitigated some by (deepfake mitigation), but each technique was intricate, and not very suitable to solve the problem at its root.

The apps were installed on the device with which photos were taken and videos were made, this would have included information in the image (metadata) such that they could, in a second moment, be compared with deepfakes to demonstrate the authenticity of the former and the falsity of the latter. Another method, perhaps even more complicated, was to analyze the alleged fake videos by carefully observing some details such as the ears or the reflection in the pupils.

However, it was still a battle against windmills. Scarlett Johansson, a victim of countless pornographic deepfakes, in December 2018 in an interview with the Washington Post declared that she believed any attempt to remove deepfakes “a lost cause”. She did not consider herself worried about herself, protected by her fame, but for all ordinary women who in turn could find themselves unwitting victims.

The evolution of deepfake technology actually made the tool much more accessible. It was even possible to create a deepfake from a single image, without the need for a large archive of photos or videos of the subject. Have you ever wanted to see Mona Lisa speaking and breathing like a real human being? In the first years of the III millennium, there was the technology to make it happen.

A Word from the Videomaker

The fact that the video was not “proven evidence” was already clear to some of us in unsuspecting analog times. In the pre-digital era we knew well that it was possible to manipulate a shot through editing to create different interpretations or versions of reality. Yet already at the end of the twentieth century a fact was considered true because “TV had said it.”

We video geeks, spoke of the truth as something that was defined through multiple points of view. In our documentaries we did not pretend to tell the truth, but rather tried to offer a partial vision of things, our vision, our irreducible point of view.

In my eyes, deepfake technology offers a more sophisticated method of manipulating reality. Again, the antibodies not to succumb to this vulnerability are not digital, rather, they are found in the expectations we place in technology and possibly in the levels of delegation (of truth, correctness, knowledge…). For example, in this story Cindy believes in Eva, despite the overwhelming video evidence, because the two are friends and trust has been built over time in the relationship.

A Writer Says…

“The old idea that pictures do not lie is going to have to undergo drastic revision.” Science fiction writer Jack Wodhams wrote in a 1986 story1.

The fact that such a scenario was taken for granted at that time says it clearly: the problem, once again, was not the technology available and its accuracy, but the trust in their sources and the network of relationships in which the falsified image is manifested. How to deal with a phenomenon like deepfake without falling into “absolutist relativism”2 typical of the era of post-truths?

A little healthy skepticism, a pinch of awareness and two grains of trust in relationships built with passion. If the idea of the one and only truth loses points, the partial truths remain. Partial truths you can read through (suspending judgment) which lead to a more complex vision of the world around us.

Note a piè di pagina:


John Wodhams, Picaper, in Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact, Mid-December 1986,


Not at all radical relativism! Instead it takes more relativism, not less: but a relativism of a completely different kind, which requires attention and care, not political apathy and slovenliness. This is what Tomás Ibáñez says in: Il libero pensiero. Elogio del relativismo, Elèuthera, Milano, 2013 [2007].