Photo Credit: Rabbi YY Rubinstein
Rabbi YY Rubinstein

The truth about Facebook is out at last, and the beans have been spilled by none other than Mark Zuckerberg himself. In an Instagram video, Zuckerberg revealed the shocking truth about himself and his company while sitting calmly behind a desk:

“Imagine this for a second: one man, with total control of billions of people’s stolen data – all their secrets, their lives, their futures. I owe it all to Spectre. Spectre showed me that whoever controls the data, controls the future.”


If you have a Facebook account (and who doesn’t?), this video is frightening… except that it isn’t! You see, even though the footage is totally convincing, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t saying the words he appears to be saying. The entire thing is a fake or, to use more accurate jargon, a “deepfake.” In the original video, from September 2017, Zuckerberg is speaking about Russian election interference. (“Spectre,” incidentally, is the fictional, evil organization “007” fights against in James Bond films.)

Videos like the Zuckerberg deepfake can now be produced using video dialogue replacement (VDR) technology. Any video can be altered to have a person in it say whatever you want him to say – no matter how outrageous, offensive, or false.

The U.S. Congress Intelligence Committee is so worried about deepfake technology that it has launched an investigation into it, fearing it could pollute the upcoming presidential election. The believability of deepfakes is exacerbated by a cognitive phenomenon called the “illusory truth effect.” When people are shown something that reinforces their beliefs and biases, a part of their brain resists deleting the “truth” they have seen despite indisputable evidence that the information is false.

Another, much worse, problem with deepfakes is what some call “the liar’s dividend.” Professor Mary Anne Franks, an expert on cyber law and criminal law at the University of Miami School of Law, says, “It’s not just that people are going to think that fake things are real, but that they will think that real things are fake.”

In 2016, The Washington Post reported that Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the “international word of the year, after the contentious ‘Brexit’ referendum and the equally divisive U.S. Presidential election caused usage of the adjective to skyrocket, according to the Oxford University Press.” The dictionary defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Of course, playing on people’s emotions is not a new problem. That’s why in Jewish law both plaintiff and defendant present their stories at the same time. Each must be able to immediately challenge or contradict what the other is claiming. The Rabbis were aware of the illusory truth effect long ago and took steps to make sure that one version of events cannot gain a foothold in the minds of the judges and influence their assessment of the situation.

Deepfake news is particularly dangerous due to the democratization of the phenomenon. The technology can be used by anyone with even a reasonable degree of computer sophistication. And an anticipated avalanche of deep lies, and consequent devaluing of the truth, is a worrying and sinister development, particularly for Jews.

The bias and prejudice that many, and some would argue most, major Western newspapers and TV channels manifest towards the Jewish state has led to a series of billboards in New York with slogans like, “New York Times Against Israel: All Rant. All Slant. All the Time.” Then there’s the strange case of the BBC spending £333,000 in court to suppress discovery of the contents of a report it commissioned on its perceived bias against Israel.

In fact, examples of the media’s complicity in, and promotion of, anti-Israel propaganda are so well documented that they could fill a book – and have, many times.

I discovered as a young man is that if someone behaves badly towards you, you are unlikely to be alone. An unpleasant boss is probably unpleasant to most of his or her employees. So if many journalists have openly abandoned anything but a fig leaf of objectivity when it comes to Jews, can’t people reasonably assume that they have also abandoned objectivity in other matters too?

A “post-truth” world in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” is accelerated and legitimized when the conveyors of truth are seen to frequently lie.

The Talmud notes that the three Hebrew letters that spell sheker (lies) are grouped together at the end of the alphabet. That hints that there will be an exponential growth of falsehood at the end of this exile. With VDR technology, the international word of the year for 2020 may well be “deepfake.” If so, Moshiach must be coming soon.


Previous articleGlobal Airlines Reroute to Avoid Iranian Airspace Near Strait of Hormuz
Next articleWatch Out When You Travel
Rabbi YY Rubinstein is a popular lecturer, a regular broadcaster on BBC National TV and Radio, and the author of 10 books (including, most recently, “Jewish Life and Jewish Laughter”).