Defeating Deepfakes: Jennifer Hancock of Humanist Learning Systems How We Can Identify Convincingly Real Fake Video, Pictures, and Writing, And How We Can Push Back
Show kindness. People join cults because they are hurting, and they are victims of manipulation, even if they are causing harm. Compassion helps more than accusations in these cases.
Most of us are very impressed with the results produced by generative AI like ChatGPT, DALL-E and Midjourney. Their results are indeed very impressive. But all of us will be struggling with a huge problem in the near future. With the ability for AI to create convincingly real images, video, and text, how will we know what is real and what is fake, what is reality and what is not reality? See this NYT article for a recent example. This is not just a problem for the future; it is already a struggle today. Media organizations are struggling with a problem of fake people, people with AI generated faces and AI generated text applying to do interviews. This problem will only get worse as AI gets more advanced. In this interview series, called “Defeating Deepfakes: How We Can Identify Convincingly Real Fake Video, Pictures, and Writing, And How We Can Push Back,” we are talking to thought leaders, business leaders, journalists, editors, and media publishers about how to identify fake text, fake images and fake video, and what all of us can do to push back against disinformation spread by deepfakes. As a part of this series we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jennifer Hancock.
Jennifer Hancock is the author of several best-selling books and the founder of Humanist Learning Systems. She specializes in teaching a humanistic approach to critical thinking and a behavioral science approach to stopping unwanted behavior, such as bullying. Understanding the science of how behaviors are learned and, more importantly, unlearned is critical if we are to successfully combat disinformation and deep fakes.
Thank you so much for joining us. Before we dive in, our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you share with us the “backstory” about how you got started in your career?
The quick and dirty of how I became an expert in the science of how behaviors are learned and unlearned is that I trained dolphins for a dolphin language institute in Hawaii. One of the techniques that all animal trainers learn is called “extinguishing a behavior.” There is only one known way to stop unwanted behavior, and this knowledge impacts everything you experience and learn. I teach it as a defensive skill to help combat bullying, but it also has implications for understanding why people come to believe things that aren’t true. It is the science behind how people are “brainwashed” and how to help individuals escape from cults. How people learn and unlearn is fundamental to the problem of how we push back against deepfakes. Over 70 years of research supports this science. This is established knowledge on par with evolution. The problem is that most people are not aware of it, so sharing this knowledge and helping people solve their problems has become a life mission.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?
I helped both Barry Manilow and Betty White adopt dogs from the Los Angeles SPCA when I worked there. Both were absolutely as lovely as you would expect them to be.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When you apprentice as an animal trainer, you’re bound to make all sorts of mistakes as you learn how to do things properly. One of the hardest techniques to master is Extinguishing a Behavior, and it’s critical to do it perfectly. Failure to do so can cause all sorts of problems, including superstitious behavior, where the animal no longer knows what it did to receive the reward, and starts adding unnecessary behavior to their pattern. Now, for the funny story — I’m a cat person, and I accidentally trained my cat to perform a 45-minute, insanely annoying bedtime routine. It began with some light mewing, which I unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish several times. As a result, the behavior escalated into a sequence where he would go to one window and bat it, go to the other window and bat it, go into the hallway and mew, bat the door, and then come back to the bed and continue mewing before eventually settling down. This extravagant behavior was entirely my fault, and it’s what happens when you mess up the extinction process. I eventually gave up after 45 minutes because I was not completing the extinction process to extinction. My variable reinforcement of the unwanted behavior caused the cat to do an entire production before settling down. The lesson I learned is that good intentions aren’t enough, and we can often do things that are counterproductive.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I think the most exciting thing as an educator is reaching new audiences and being able to share knowledge with more people. Therefore, I am most excited about my learning partnerships where I collaborate with other vendors who resell my content to their audience.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share why you are an authority about the topic of Deepfakes?
I am not an authority on deep fakes. Instead, I am an expert on how to push back against unwanted behavior in a way that effectively stops it. The challenges I tackle? How can we interrupt the flow of disinformation so that people can a) learn the truth and b) cease participating in what can be referred to as cults
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now shift to the main parts of our interview. Let’s start with a basic set of definitions so that we are all on the same page. Can you help define what a “Deepfake” is? How is it different than a parody or satire?
To me, a deep fake has the intent to misinform people. Its purpose is to deceive and have the deception believed. Parody and satire, on the other hand, are honest about the fact that they are mocking or making fun of the truth.
Can you help articulate to our readers why Deepfakes should be a serious concern right now, and why we should take measures to identify them?
Disinformation is a big problem. We cannot solve our real problems if we don’t understand what is really causing them and we don’t know what will really work to fix them. This problem is affecting our ability to govern ourselves well. Disinformation is designed to get us to act against our best interests by getting us to believe in lies. People lie to us to exploit us and make money off of us. It is important to understand that we are actively under psychological attack by people using behavioral techniques to manipulate us and our thinking. We need to learn how to defend against behavioral manipulation and this requires us to know how behaviors are shaped and learned and unlearned. If we don’t learn how to defend against behavioral manipulation, our think will not be free. Our thoughts will instead be conditioned the way some bad actor wants us to think. How you think and what you think about can be conditioned without your consent. If I wanted to, I could get you to hum a specific tune whenever you heard a particular bird call. I don’t need your permission to condition this sort of response in you. You will just hum the tune without knowing why. Imagine what bad actors who want to manipulate you can do with these techniques and then understand — they already are doing it. If we want to remain free, we need to tackle this and that means learning how to defend against behavioral manipulation.
Why would a person go to such lengths to create a deepfake? How exactly can malicious actors benefit from making them?
If someone can get you to believe lies, they can get you to do anything. The people who attacked our Capitol thought they were saving the country by attacking and planning to kill our elected officials. Some people just want to make money by convincing you to purchase certain products. Others want to make billions by scamming taxpayer expenses. But they can only commit those crimes without consequence if the politicians allow them to. This is why companies like FPL in Florida spent so much money running fake candidates to throw the Miami elections to people who would rubber-stamp a price increase for them and reduce oversight. There is an insane amount of money to be made if you can get legislators to let you do immoral and illegal things. I currently live in a former KKK area. If you have friends in law enforcement, you can kill people with impunity and steal someone’s farm which happened more than once in my county back in the 1940s. There are lots of money to be made convincing people that lies are the truth and making sure your friends run the government.
Similarly, can you please share with our readers a few ways to identify fake audio?
Again, not my area of expertise. What I will say is that if you are outraged, fact-check the source. This is really our only defense. Fact-check the source and make sure it’s verified by a reliable news outlet. Someone I know in the freethought community was going on about a video they had seen where drag queens were doing really sexual things around little kids. The video was edited to look real, but a quick media bias fact-check showed the source of the video was well-known liars. So, fact-check. Just because you’ve seen a video doesn’t mean what you are seeing is real or really happened. If it’s emotionally charged, it’s probably fake.
Next, can you please share with our readers a few ways to identify fake text?
Same rules as above. The goal of the manipulators is to manipulate you. If you are having an emotional reaction, fact check it with other reliable sources. No one is immune to manipulation. It has nothing to do with intelligence. If you are having an emotional gut reaction, you are probably being manipulated.
Finally, can you please share with our readers a few ways to identify fake video?
Same as above — fact check things. Only rely on those sources that are known to be reliable by the fact-checkers.
How can the public neutralize the threat posed by deepfakes? Is there anything we can do to push back?
One key is to recognize that people want to manipulate you and understand how the manipulations work. If you read up on how cults groom people, you will get an idea of how it works. Here are some specific things to watch out for:
- Repetition of lies makes them feel true, even if you know they’re false. The reason for this has to do with how the brain does pattern matching and how matched patterns make the brain feel good. Things that don’t match the pattern make the brain super cranky. A repeated lie makes the brain feel good. This is why the brain will prefer the lie to the truth.
- Whenever you see a “no one else but us” frame, assume it’s a lie. This is done in marketing for a reason. In cults, they don’t want you to believe anyone outside the cult.
- Knee-jerk rejection of counterfactual information. One way to identify cults is that they can’t and won’t accept information that invalidates their beliefs. They will rationalize why they are allowed to ignore the inconvenient facts presented to them. Often, they will resort to a standard response. For example, when modern Republicans are presented with evidence of a Republican behaving badly, they will immediately say “what about the Democrats.” This is an example of a conditioned response that’s been reinforced over a 30-year period. It’s made many Republicans incapable of having a rational conversation about a specific incidence of Republican malfeasance. If you attempt to redirect back to the topic at hand, they will get angry and frustrated as their brains won’t let them focus. They’ve been conditioned to deflect. To neutralize this response, try repeatedly introducing doubt through Socratic questioning. Talk about brainwashing techniques, but use an example other than the cult the person you’re talking to is in.
- The first step to neutralizing manipulation is to recognize it happening and not allow the redirection to their topic or framing. It’s not possible to retrain someone in a single conversation, so mostly what you want to do is introduce doubt through questioning. Try repeatedly introducing doubt through Socratic questioning. Talk about brainwashing techniques, but use an example other than the cult the person you’re talking to is in. If you talk about their cult they will get defensive. They can only accept the information on topics they aren’t conditioned to have a knee jerk reaction to.
- Finally, it’s critical for the media to stop repeating lies. Headlines must state the truth. No exceptions. If a politician lies, the headline shouldn’t be “politician says this” with the information that it’s a lie buried in the text. The truth must be the headline. The headline should read Politicians lies about — whatever the truth is. Approximately 50% of the population is functionally illiterate and only reads headlines. They can’t read the text to understand that the headline is a lie. We must start using headlines to fight back and ensure they are the truth, not a repeat of a known lie. This use of headlines to lie to people is part of the behavioral manipulation and repetition that is used to convince people lies are the truth.
This is the signature question we ask in most of our interviews. Can you share your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.
- It’s okay to fail. Keep trying.
- Stay humble in everything you do because you are not always right. Admitting your mistakes is better than continuing to be wrong
- A reality-based strategy can fix things. Knowing what is true and what is not is crucial.
- Fact-check everything, especially the things you agree with. Misinformation targets everyone, and intelligence is not a shield.
- Show kindness. People join cults because they are hurting, and they are victims of manipulation, even if they are causing harm. Compassion helps more than accusations in these cases.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I truly believe we can stop bullying and harassment in a single generation. This is super easy to teach, and everyone should know how to make bullying stop. Imagine if we taught every kid at a school how to stop unwanted behavior using science and compassion. What are those kids like when they grow up? No kid learns to bully because their peers shut it down. No kid grows up with the trauma of being bullied because they never were. What are those kids like as adults? Now, let’s do this in an entire county, or state, or country. This is doable if we apply the science of how to get unwanted behaviors to stop. It’s time we stop guessing and start using what science has found works. Let’s get this done.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My online courses can be found at https://humanistlearning.com. Additionally, I offer free anti-bullying resources on my website https://bullyvaccineproject.com, where I teach the behavioral science of extinguishing unwanted behavior.
Thank you so much for the time you spent on this. We greatly appreciate it and wish you continued success!