As people turn to digital media for news at high rates, media manipulation algorithms continue to gain power. In a Pew Research Center survey (August/September 2020), 53% of adults in the United States say they receive information on social media “often” or “sometimes”. People have long been aware of phenomena such as “tampered” photos and misinformation in general, but machine learning is enabling the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated “deepfakes”, videos or images of fake events.
Now, the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality (MIT Virtuality for short) has created a course that addresses disinformation both in terms of specific contemporary technological phenomena and from a broader media perspective.
“We are in an information crisis right now,” says Joshua Glick, education producer for this MIT Virtuality project and assistant professor of media studies at Hendrix College. “A combination of political, technological and economic forces has propelled the spread of misinformation and disinformation throughout our media environment – and the crisis has only been amplified by the pandemic.”
The MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality, part of MIT Open Learning and led by D. Fox Harrell, a professor in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, has created a free online course, Media Literacy in the Age of Deepfakes , with the goal of giving educators and independent learners the essential resources and skills to understand the threat of misinformation. In addition to teaching participants how to decipher factual claims from lies and credible sources of hoaxes, the course aims to place deepfakes within a larger story of media manipulation and show how activists, artists, technologists and filmmakers use AI. media for a wide range of civic projects.
The course is implemented as a dynamic multi-level website including videos and case studies, while providing much more context and information through different self-paced learning modules. An illustrative example used in the course is “In Event of Moon Disaster”, an Emmy Award-winning MIT Virtuality production co-directed by Francesca Panetta and Halsey Burgund. The project features a deepfake of President Nixon giving the real emergency speech written in 1969 for a scenario in which the Apollo 11 crew were unable to return from the moon, and offers many resources for learning and ‘to analyse.
The Media Literacy in the Age of Deepfakes project was supported by a Higher Education Innovation Grant from the Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL) to design both a series of classroom educational experiences for students and an online course to serve more broadly as a resource for educational institutions. Glick, a public humanities expert, was hired to work on the project by Professor Harrell, the grant’s principal investigator. Other contributors to the project include Senior Project Manager Rita Sahu and Digital Publishing Specialist Cathleen Nalezyty at OpenCourseWare, as well as Web Developer Nicolae Herrera, Consulting Designer Ksenia Slavina and Graphic Designer Dan Sharkey, to create an interactive experience. rich learning adapted to higher education.
“The course responds to a growing need to tackle misinformation and disinformation on a variety of fronts ranging from policy to technological interventions – in this case, we focus on improving public knowledge and understanding,” says Harrell. “Deepfakes are just one example of a virtuality technology, which we describe as technologies that blend the imagination with the physical world. Our center is pioneering creative and impactful uses of these technologies for learning and social good – and to counter their uses for negative purposes such as misinformation. The objectives of this course are to enable students and educators to have a critical awareness of their media environment and to help them become knowledgeable interpreters of the media they encounter on a daily basis.
The course has been designed with maximum flexibility in mind, comprising three individual learning modules which can be taught individually as ‘micro-units’ within a media studies, computer science or communication course, or all together as extended courses of one to three weeks. section.
Additionally, the course website includes a comprehensive resources section with assignments linked to the modules. For example, there is a StoryMaps project that incorporates historical journal research and a design prompt to prototype new synthetic media artwork. There is also a detailed bibliography and a sample syllabus that can be used for a semester-long course. The course team has included many quotes and references throughout the modules, allowing teachers to dig deeper and learn about specific topics, such as 20th century disinformation or art activated by the AI.
Media Literacy in the Age of Deepfakes has been used at Dartmouth College and other universities as well as at MIT in courses in Comparative Media Studies and Media Arts and Sciences. It is also hosted by MIT OpenCourseWare, making it accessible to the millions of learners and educators around the world who turn to this website for the best of MIT’s open-access learning materials.
“It has been eye-opening and gratifying to hear from colleagues about how their classes have engaged with this online course,” says Glick. “If students can be a bit more critical about the articles, videos and images that appear on their social media feeds, the project will have done some good. I hope they can apply what they learn to their courses and to their professional and public life beyond university.