2020 Vision: Altered Pelosi videos show the risk of 'deepfakes' in campaign

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Welcome to 2020 Vision, the Yahoo News column covering the presidential race. Reminder: There are 255 days until the Iowa caucuses and 528 days until the 2020 presidential election.

[Who’s running for president? Click here for Yahoo News’ 2020 tracker]

A video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi altered to make her sound drunk or ill, promulgated this week by supporters of President Trump, sent an ominous warning about AI-enhanced disinformation in the 2020 election.

The video of Pelosi speaking at a Center for American Progress event on Wednesday was slowed to make her speech sound slurred. “What is wrong with Nancy Pelosi? Her speech pattern is bizarre,” asked Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani in a now-deleted tweet linking to the video.

Trump tweeted a different Pelosi video Thursday night, a selectively edited clip from Fox Business Network that cut a 21-minute press conference to 30 seconds of stammers and stumbles.

The alterations and selective editing of the Pelosi clips were relatively easy to spot and debunk by comparing them to the original videos. But artificial intelligence makes much more sophisticated “deepfakes” possible. Last year, with the assistance of director and occasional Barack Obama impersonator Jordan Peele, BuzzFeed showed how easy it is to create a completely fake statement from a notable politician. Showing how quickly the tools are evolving, Samsung published a video this week in which a convincing virtual image of the Mona Lisa appears to move, talk and change expression. The target of such a cyber-impersonation would face the daunting task of proving that something didn’t happen. A candidate caught in a compromising situation could claim the footage was manipulated or fabricated.

The potential for damage led the Pentagon to create a research team dedicated to figuring out ways to spot fake video and audio.

The advance of technology and the lack of oversight on social media platforms — as of Friday morning, Facebook was still hosting the doctored Pelosi video — heighten the danger that literal fake news could be viewed by millions of voters. If it went viral just before an election, there would be little or no time for the victim to disprove it.

The willingness and expertise of Trump partisans, and even the White House itself, to manipulate depictions and descriptions of reality have intensified those fears.

Last year, the White House shared a doctored video of CNN reporter Jim Acosta that made it look like he was striking a press aide in a tussle over a microphone. Press secretary Sarah Sanders posted the video, which originated with Paul Joseph Watson, a far-right conspiracy theorist and contributor to the website Infowars.

“The most dangerous type of fake news and reporting and evidence is when you get into the fine details, the nuanced things that are shaped to present a certain viewpoint or decision or news a certain way,” Jonathan Albright, research director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, told the Washington Post about the Acosta video. “It’s not AI-generated or completely false. It’s something that’s real but has been literally stretched ... and molded into weaponized evidence.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., addresses a Green New Deal event at Howard University in Washington, D.C., on May 13. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

The 'AOC primary'

For progressive presidential candidates in 2020, there is perhaps no greater prize than earning the endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The 29-year-old freshman phenom has not chosen a candidate in the huge field seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I will support whoever the Democratic nominee is,” Ocasio-Cortez told Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast last month, but she singled out Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for praise.

“I’m very supportive of Bernie’s run,” she said. “I haven’t endorsed anybody, but I’m very supportive of Bernie. I also think what Elizabeth Warren has been bringing to the table is truly remarkable, truly remarkable and transformational.”

Since that time, Ocasio-Cortez has seemed to align herself closer with Warren, cutting two viral clips that suggested an ideological kinship on corporate responsibility — and on the capability of women to govern an unruly realm.

Given her unwavering approach to progressive political goals, it’s not surprising that Warren would emerge as a contender for the freshman representative’s endorsement. But Ocasio-Cortez also has ties to Sanders, the self-proclaimed democratic socialist, who might be an even closer ideological fit.

One Democratic candidate who likely won't be getting AOC's seal of approval anytime soon: former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden’s candidacy “does not particularly animate me right now,” Ocasio-Cortez told “Skullduggery.”

A supporter waits for Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang at a rally in New York City, May 14. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The 'influencer' election

As the race to secure frontrunner status for the 2020 election accelerates, Yahoo News' Brittany Shepherd reports that political campaigns are looking to win over the youngest segment of voters: Generation Z.

Generally considered to be individuals born between 1997 and 2012, the freshest members of the electorate are nearly impossible to reach with traditional media. In politics, 2020 could be the year of the influencer.

Influencers — who are broadly thought of as individuals able to attract a significant social following unique to their own community — wield significant sway over younger individuals. According to a recent survey by the media company Fullscreen, 54.8 percent of adults ages 18-24 trust these content creators more than they trust how brands market themselves. And with that trust comes power — power strong enough to sway nearly 5,000 people to purchase tickets to a catastrophic music festival in the Caribbean that didn’t quite exist.

“Candidates should be thinking about influencers like they do the press, and allow influencers to have a valid voice and opinion and educate their followers,” says Vickie Segar, founder of Village Marketing, an agency that connects brands with influencers and operates a townhouse in Manhattan designed for content creation. The Gen Z cohort otherwise would have no exposure to some candidates, she says, “because they’re not watching traditional news media on television anymore.”

Read more about why 2020 could be the year of the influencer here.

Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, during a roundtable discussion in Des Moines, Iowa, on May 6. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Mo' Beto blues

Despite losing his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, Beto O'Rourke emerged as a rock star during the 2018 midterm elections, an experience that persuaded him to run for president. And O'Rourke made a splash when he announced his bid, appearing on the cover of Vanity Fair and pulling in what was then a record $6.1 million in the first 24 hours of his campaign. (Former Vice President Joe Biden eclipsed that mark in his own campaign's first day.)

So why are pundits, and even the candidate himself, talking about the need for a Beto reboot? Just look at the polls.

In the latest Quinnipiac national poll, conducted May 16-20, O'Rourke received just 2 percent support among Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters. That puts him tied for sixth place with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and more than 30 percentage points behind the frontrunner, Joe Biden. According to Real Clear Politics’ polling average, O'Rourke has fallen from a high-water mark of 9.5 percent in early April to 3.7 percent.

"I can do a better job of talking to a national audience," O'Rourke told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow last week.

He even admitted that launching with a Vanity Fair cover was a mistake.

"I think it reinforces that perception of privilege," O'Rourke said on ABC's "The View."

And according to CNN's Leyla Santiago, who has been more or less embedded with the O’Rourke campaign since its launch, staffers are working to make the candidate, who in January posted video of his visit to the dentist, look "more presidential" — which is perhaps why O'Rourke appeared at his CNN town hall in a suit rather than his trademark button-down-with-the-sleeves-rolled-up.

Whatever the case, next month's first Democratic presidential debate in Miami could be pivotal for Beto's new look — and his chances.

Marianne Williamson (Photo: Amy Harris/Invision/AP/File)

Marianne makes the debate

After crossing the 1 percent support threshold in a Monmouth poll of Democratic voters in early states, author and spiritual guru Marianne Williamson has hit both qualifications for the first Democratic debates. Williamson had already reached the mark of 65,000 donors earlier this month, ensuring she will be one of the candidates participating in June’s Democratic debates. Two debates will take place over the nights of June 26 and 27 in Miami, with 10 Democrats randomly drawn for each night. So far, a dozen candidates have hit both marks.

The 66-year-old has had seven New York Times bestsellers, and her 2.6 million Twitter followers put her ahead of much of the field. She is a supporter of Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and reparations for the descendants of slaves, and she has said that as president she would establish a Department of Peace. She ran in the 2014 primary for California’s 23rd Congressional District as an independent, finishing fourth in a race eventually won by Rep. Ted Lieu.

While Williamson only just hit 1 percent in Thursday’s Monmouth poll, she is ahead of two sitting senators (Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Michael Bennet of Colorado), the governors of Washington and Montana (Jay Inslee and Steve Bullock) and three congressmen (Tim Ryan, Eric Swalwell and Seth Moulton). She will be joined on the stage by another newcomer to politics in Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur pushing a plan for universal basic income.

President Trump at a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pa., Monday. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


“Don’t forget, Biden deserted you. He’s not from Pennsylvania. I guess he was born here, but he left you folks. He left you for another state. Remember that, please.”

— President Trump at a rally in Montoursville, Pa., Monday

“My family did have to leave Pennsylvania when I was 10.”

— Former Vice President Joe Biden in a fundraising email Tuesday

"I love ska."

— New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio when asked on CNN about his musical tastes

"It’s disgusting."

— South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, on the report that President Trump is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes

"I think this is something that President Trump has unleashed. He apparently wants to have a war on women in America."

— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., at a rally outside the Supreme Court protesting recent state-level abortion bans

Weekend forecast

Des Moines, Iowa

• Saturday, May 25: Thunderstorms, 80°/60°

• Sunday, May 26: Partly cloudy, 78°/65°

• Monday, May 27: Scattered thunderstorms, 79°/65°

Manchester, N.H.

• Saturday, May 25: Partly cloudy, 76°/56°

• Sunday, May 26: Partly cloudy, 83°/58°

• Monday, May 27: Mostly sunny, 76°/51°

Source: Weather Underground


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