By Mirza Yawar Baig
e used to say, “Seeing is believing.” That is no longer true about videos. Use of AI to create Deep Fakes is so powerful that most people can’t tell the difference. As time passes, the technology will develop to the extent that we will simply not be able to tell the difference between real footage and doctored or simply created footage about a person or incident that never happened and so could never have been filmed.
Remember the video of the smoking fish eating a snake? That is an excellent example of a fake video. Most are not so benign as that. People make fake videos to influence minds and hearts to serve their own reasons and we are their unsuspecting victim. The fake video industry is worth billions of dollars and has massive official support in some countries. Its purpose is to promote hatred, racism, prejudice and violence to distract the attention of the general population (i.e. you and I) from their real purpose, looting our resources and the legacy of our children. With these people, compassion, justice, suffering, deprivation, poverty, nothing has any value or meaning, except the predatory, single-minded pursuit of profit and power at any cost. That is because we pay the price, not they. They merely gross the profits, thanks to our cooperation in being and remaining distracted and not getting organized and not asking critical questions.
Our biggest weakness is that we think we are intelligent enough to recognize a fake and can’t be fooled. And when we do get fooled, which is all the time, our ego won’t let us admit it. We are the fake video maker’s dream come true. What is the solution? Never look at a video that is not from a source you trust. ‘What was seen cannot be unseen.’ ~ Garfield
Never has it been more necessary to sincerely ask Allah :
“O Allah show me the truth as truth and give me the ability to follow it, and show me falsehood for what it is and give me the ability to abstain from it”
Justice is the bedrock of our faith. Lying is the worst and biggest of sins in Islam. Our duty and signature is to stand for justice as witnesses to Allah.
Social media creators are experts in psychology and masters at manipulation so that the individual becomes mentally dependent and a blind and willing follower. His every click, his attention, his involvement generates revenue for them. They become billionaires thanks to us. What do we get in the process? We must ask that question. Remember, that at one end of this string is an expert in psychology unburdened by any ethics or values earning millions because he can manipulate you. And at the other end is your child; innocent, malleable, totally incapable of resisting, let alone combatting the sweet poison that is being fed to him. And worse, a parent who thinks s/he knows and is in control. In the words of Daniel Boorstin, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge”. We think we know. We think we are in control. We think it won’t harm us.
We are wrong. I am not trying to be dramatic. It is as bad as that. Please remember that the biggest problem of the addict is to accept that he is addicted. That is our reality. We are living in a world of denial. But remember also that denial is simply that – denial. It is not real.
The truth is not dependent on belief or acceptance. It is true, whether anyone accepts it or not. Gravity will not go away if we refuse to accept it. Cigarettes will not become beneficial because we deny their harm. Drugs will not stop intoxicating because we legalize them or make them tax deductible. Social media is about fake news, mental enslavement, dopamine addiction leading to ADHD and other more toxic conditions. Algorithms determine what we watch and believe, how we vote, who we trust, who we suspect, who we love and who we hate and in the end, who rules us. Deep fakes appear real thanks to technology. We know this but we do not bother to verify because they appear to be so real. Most of us do not even know how to verify.
By the time someone verifies it and publicizes that information, the damage is done. Hearts have changed, stereotypes are reinforced, people are demonized, violence is legitimized, and prejudice becomes ever more ingrained.
We are social beings and need company, affirmation, and friendship. Traditionally we sought that in face-to-face interactions, the most remote form of it was the penfriend. Someone we had never met but who we wrote letters to. We protected our identity and personal information and guarded it jealously and would go ballistic if even our parents, closest relatives or friends opened any letter of ours or read our diary without our permission.
Then came social media in 2004 and opened the doors for us to seek affiliation and affirmation without any boundaries or rules and without the tools to even assess its reality or effect. The first social media site to reach a million monthly active users was MySpace and was the beginning of social media as we know it. Yes, it is, as recent as that. Facebook which owns Instagram, Twitter and WhatsApp has over a billion active users who volunteer their information for it to harvest and use for anything at all, is even more recent. Only in February 2012 did Facebook become a public company. Its first IPO in May raised $16 billion, giving it a market value of $102.4 billion. Today it is worth over $300 billion. Ask how your wealth increased from 2012 to 2021. Do yourself a favor and read these two articles.
With social media, suddenly from a few real friends who we knew, we ended up with tens and hundreds of virtual ‘friends’ and ‘followers’. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and everything else in between encouraged us to share the most mundane information about ourselves and suddenly made it the means to become ‘popular’. They gave us ‘role models’ like the Kardashians and others who post what they post to induce us to do the same. Like faithful sheep, we followed.
I am putting words like ‘friends’, ‘followers’, ‘popular’ in quotes to underline the fact that none of that is real. However, human nature is such that it does not analyze or deny pleasant experiences. And so, if we have 2000 virtual friends on FB or 3000 followers on Twitter, we do not question the reality or check it against real evidence. We are happy to stay with the fantasy and give in to the drive to increase our ‘following’. This also means that we will do whatever we need to, to ensure that we don’t lose any friends or followers. Remember that all this happens very unobtrusively and quietly and our behavior changes without our being aware of it. Rapidly we get our own sense of identity hooked to this and start to look forward to seeing what our ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ think of us. We want them to like us and so we do what they like. We think we are independent. We are not. We are enslaved.
Where we used to be upset if someone pried into our private lives, now we voluntarily put it out there and get upset if nobody comments on it (thumbs-up, hearts, likes) immediately. We keep checking after every post to see if it is getting attention. How often do we check? How about every three seconds? If you don’t believe me or the statistics which I am quoting here, just time yourself to see how long it is before you look at your phone, even if it is just lying there on your desk, without the notification tone sounding. We post a picture of our dinner in a restaurant on Instagram, Kheema Dosa, which should be sacrilege as it combines that which is vegetarian with that which was; and we immediately check to see who liked that picture.
Dopamine is a drug which is created in the body, like cancer. And just because it is created in your body, it does not mean it won’t kill you. It will. Also, like cancer. Imagine the effect of Dopamine addiction on children. Yes, children. Your children, thanks to you. Yes, you. Parents who are too lazy to parent and leave parenting to the tablet or the phone. You are the cause of your child’s addiction and the effect of the make-believe world that you opened up for your child which will have long-term negative consequences on his attention span, perseverance, social skills, resilience in the face of hardship, ability to reflect and conceptualize life’s lessons and simply ability to grow into a confident, ethical, compassionate, and courageous adult. Dopamine addiction can lead to maladjusted individuals who have major problems forming real relationships, dealing with disagreement, marriage and in increasingly frequent cases, suicide. It is as serious as that.
This is where those who found a way to exploit Dopamine addiction to their advantage came in. By writing algorithms to identify what we prefer and are attracted towards and then using that to create the dream of the advertiser – the supremely targeted advertisement that can almost guarantee purchase. This metamorphosed into mind-steering and instigating action; buying behavior to begin with and then more dangerous possibilities like manipulating public opinion and elections. The tragedy is that there is nothing that WhatsApp or FB or Instagram or anyone is taking from us without our consent. We give consent because we are addicted. Taking our consent is like the drug dealer taking money from a heroin addict. The addict will hunt the drug dealer down to pay him because he needs his fix.
My principle in this is very simple. I say, “I may not be able to stop it, but I am not going to help it to happen.” FB and its owner may want to control the world and may even succeed (remember Cambridge Analyticah.
Mirza Yawar Baig is based in Hyderabad, and is the founder and President of Yawar Baig & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org