Is Public Relations Prepared for Deep Fakes?

The term “deepfake” sounds like a play-call in football where the quarterback fakes running the ball but then throws deep for his wide receiver. I learned in a presentation while at my Syracuse Immersion this spring that a Deepfake is something much more sinister that can have big impacts on our communications industry from journalism to advertising and public relations.

Simply put, deepfakes are fabricated videos that have been produced and edited to make a person say or do something that they never did. For example, in a political campaign, video of candidates can be manipulated to show that they said something they didn’t and it can be hard to detect because technology has become so sophisticated. The creators of deepfakes use face-swapping which means they edit one person’s face onto another person’s head (Villasenor, 2019). The most common method to create deepfakes is with free AI software (Fagan, 2018). These videos are based on “deep learning” or neural networks using artificial intelligence and they can be hard to detect.

How can you spot a deep fake? It can be difficult. Just check out this example from BuzzFeed that uses video of former President Obama. It sounds and looks real.

Deepfake example.

According to John Villasenor (2019), these deepfake videos exploit our inclination to trust the reliability of evidence we witness with our own eyes and therefore can turn fiction into fact.

When you think about it, deepfakes can ruin a candidate’s chances of getting elected, it can ruin people’s careers or it can ruin an entire company if the video is of your CEO doing or saying something inflammatory or detrimental. In our fast-paced digital world it’s easy for anyone to obtain and manipulate video of deepfake targets.

As our presenter and media law professor Nina Brown (2019) pointed out, deep fake videos are not synonymous with fake videos. Fake videos or scenes like the ones in Forrest Gump where the character is placed back in time with events in the 60s and 70s are harmless and not meant to deceive.

Imagine if someone made a deepfake video of your CEO talking negatively about your company, sharing fake financial information about the company or being placed in a crime scene. Talk about a nightmare for public relations professionals. This could ruin the company or send stocks crashing. How would you as a PR practitioner deal with such a crisis? In my opinion, we need to ensure that we have such scenarios included in our crisis plans and we should work with organizations and companies to create awareness of the things technology can do to harm our reputations.

Brown (2019) also discussed the implications of deepfakes as it relates to current law because the First Amendment protects freedom of speech and there is no legal duty for digital and social media to stop the spread of fake news. But as citizens, we have the duty to search for the truth. The problem is that most people are not media savvy enough to detect fake news or these deep fake videos. That’s why it’s critical for PR professionals to help create awareness.

According to Brown (2019), the solutions currently being developed include algorithms to detect deep fakes, but they must be implemented at the top of the distribution channel before they go viral or are shared. The other solution in the works is creating new laws for digital and social and using current laws like false light, defamation and right of publicity just to name a few. Also, public awareness is critical in helping publics understand that these exist, and they should not take things they see on the internet at face value, but rather should be critical of information.

The bigger issue is that the internet is worldwide and other countries do not have to abide by our laws. Also, under current law, Internet Service Providers cannot be held accountable for the content or sharing of third-party content. I believe though that ISPs must also take steps to deter or ban such content from their sites. Facebook and Twitter have implemented some policies and they do delete content based upon their policies. Villasenor (2019) wrote that deepfakes detection techniques will never be perfect and even the best detection advances will not be able to keep up with the pace of deepfake technology.

The bottom line is that AI is adding more complications to an already complicated digital and social media world, and as PR professionals we must be prepared to adapt and manage these issues and help create solutions.


Brown, Nina. (March 29, 2019). “Deepfakes and the Law.” Syracuse University. Lecture.

BuzzFeedVideo. (April 17, 2018). You won’t believe what Obama says in this video. In Retrieved from

Fagan, K. (2018, April 17). A viral video that appeared to show Obama calling Trump a ‘dips—‘shows a disturbing new trend called ‘deepfakes’. In Retrieved from

Peel, J., & Obama, B. (Actor). Peel, J. (Narrator). (2018). You Won’t Believe What Obama Says In The [Online video]. USA: BuzzFeed. Retrieved from

Villasenor, J. (2019, February 14). Artificial intelligence, deepfakes, and the uncertain future of truth. In Retrieved from

Deepfake photo: Shutterstock.

Me and My Shadow?

It’s nearly October and time to think about some haunted history and ghost stories. I pulled a skeleton (story) out of my closet that just might make the hair on your arms stand up on ends. On a past press trip to Foley, Alabama, myself along with ten travel writers took a tour of the Holmes Medical Museum. And the rest is, well, history.

During the trip to the small charming town, something unexplainable happened.  Look closely at the photos and what appears to be a shadowy figure next to me. Was it some sort of energy? A ghost?

The museum is housed in a former hospital that was built in the 1930’s and closed sometime during the 1960’s. Many babies were birthed in the hospital, in fact, the docent giving the tour was born in the hospital. Doctors also performed surgery and took care of whatever ailed the townspeople. The equipment looks medieval compared to today’s standards.

As I was walked up the stairs to the second floor of the hospital, I began to feel a little uneasy. It was dark, the stairs creaked, and the antiquated medical items on display made me feel a bit nervous. I eyed long needles sitting next to a needle sharpener. They didn’t have disposable needles in those days, so they used the same needle over and over while sharpening it from time to time.

When I walked into a second-floor room filled with antique medicine bottles on display, my eyes caught the site of a skeleton hanging at the far corner. A professional photographer on the trip, Patrice Raplee, asked me to stand next to the skeleton to have my photo taken. As I neared the skeleton it appeared to be R-E-A-L! Yikes! Afterwards, the docent said it was a real human skeleton. I let out a shriek once I saw up close that this was not one of the plaster ones from our childhood teachings of the human body.

Before I go on, keep in mind that this was a cloudy day.  There was only one window at the opposite corner of an approx. 200 square foot room, no other people were in the room, no shadows to cast, and no flash was used. Patrice had a long lens on her camera (about 10 inches). I leaned in toward the skeleton to make it appear that I was touching it when in actuality I was slightly behind it.

I posed smiling while Patrice snapped my photo letting out a gasp, “OH MY!” I asked what was wrong. She said, “I’ll show you in a minute …let me take another photo.” She snapped another photo immediately. Then others began coming into the room to find out what happened. Upon showing me the first photo I too gasped! Yikes! I could not believe my eyes. The photo showed me standing next to the skeleton, and appearing in front of me was a black, wispy, transparent, apparition (for lack of a better description). It looks like a person standing with their arms in the air. No, this was not Patrice’s hand or fingers. She was holding a long telephoto lens and I saw her take the photo.

So I leave it to your eyes. View the photos, the first with the black, transparent figure in the dark corner compared to the photo taken immediately after. Keep in mind there was nothing to cast shadows, no flash, no one else standing in the room.

Skeleton Holems Medical Museum photo2
Photos by © Patrice Raplee – Second photo
Skeleton at Medical Museum- 2
Photos by © Patrice Raplee – Second photo

Upon her return to Seattle, Patrice took the photos to the University of Washington to show it to a few professionals. She explained to me that the consensus among the professionals was that the shadowy figure had nothing to do with the camera and it could not be explained.

The museum’s docent had told us  that other visitors have reported seeing apparitions and hearing strange moans. And she left it at that.

So I ask, does the Medical Museum in Foley have ghosts? You may have to visit to see for yourself.