Professor Chimène Keitner examines dangerous speech, ‘deep fakes’ in conversation

What can we do to protect democratic discourse and decision-making in the age of “dangerous speech” and digitally altered photos and videos known as “deep fakes?” That was the fundamental question posed in an in-depth conversation moderated by Professor Chimène Keitner for World Affairs Council of Northern California — an independent, non-partisan forum that explores global issues.

Speakers Susan Benesch, founder and director of the Dangerous Speech Project, and Bobby Chesney, James Baker chair at the University of Texas, School of Law, dissected the ways in which these two issues have come into focus, particularly in the aftermath of the 2016 election.

“Even if, in theory, some perfect, infallible and objective third-party source existed that could tell people when something is false and when something isn’t, people are still more likely to trust sources they know,” Benesch said when asked whether or not individuals or organizations can be expected to make judgment calls on the authenticity of content in real time in a way that would prevent harmful consequences.

She continued, “Within each social group there are some sources who are influential—and that changes from group to group. So, whether someone believes a piece of content depends as much on where it seems to originate as much as what the content is.”

The conversation also touched on key issues such as where responsibility for ensuring an environment where consumers of information can safely discern between content that is authentic and inauthentic lies, and the norms of online discourse.

The conversation, recorded Sept. 13, was the first in a four-part series on democracy, technology and security developed by Keitner in partnership with World Affairs. Registration for the next three conversations—Digital Privacy and the Surveillance State on Oct.4, Foreign Election Interference in the Digital Age on Oct. 25, and In the Crosshairs of Cyberattacks: Legal and Strategic Perspectives from the Corporate Front Lines on Nov. 1—is open. All events are from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the World Affairs Auditorium, 310 Sutter Street, Suite 200.

Watch the full conversation below or listen on iTunes.