By Joe Concha || Opinion Contrubuter/The Hill
It was the eve of Chicago’s mayoral election in late February. Incumbent Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who had captured nearly 74 percent of the vote just four years earlier, was in serious trouble in her reelection bid, primarily due to out-of-control crime in the Windy City. Four candidates, including Lightfoot, were making a last-ditch effort to win over voters.
Of the four, Paul Vallas was seen as the most moderate in positioning himself as the tough-on-crime candidate. But a video tweeted by an account called Chicago Lakefront News appeared to show Vallas saying, “In my day” a police officer could kill as many as 17-18 civilians and “no one would bat an eye.”
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“This ‘Defund the Police’ rhetoric is going to cause unrest and lawlessness in the city of Chicago,” Vallas appears to add. “We need to stop defunding the police and start refunding them.” The tweet quickly went viral.
The video looked authentic. The voice sounded just like Vallas’s, which no doubt is why it was shared by thousands of people.
The Chicago Lakefront News account was deleted the next day, but the damage had been done. Vallas went on to lose the election to Brandon Johnson, a progressive who once advocated defunding the police.
The viral deepfake audio of Vallas may be a preview of things to come in the 2024 elections. And it will be a huge test for media organizations, many of which prize virality over verification when it comes to their treatment of hot news stories of dubious origin.
Earlier this month, we got a preview of another deepfake, this one involving Republican frontrunner Donald Trump. An image was created of him appearing to fall down while being arrested ahead of his arraignment in Manhattan. The image was created by Eliot Higgins, the founder of the open-source investigative outlet Bellingcat.
“I was just mucking about,” Higgins later told The Washington Post. “I thought maybe five people would retweet it.”