Marathon Strategies gets real about deepfakes

Agency MD Ray Hernandez is leading the firm's offering focused on fraudulent content.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

WASHINGTON: Marathon Strategies has launched an offering to help clients avoid becoming victims of deepfakes, or digital images, video or audio files that have been altered so changes are undetectable to casual viewers or listeners. 

The firm has appointed Ray Hernandez, MD of special projects and investigations, to lead the initiative. 

The agency is billing itself as a one-stop shop to fend off deepfakes: identifying them, discovering their sources and developing crisis plans and communications tactics to deal with them. 

Experts have warned in recent months about the potential use of deepfakes to make it appear that executives, politicians or celebrities are saying or doing things that never actually happened. Deepfakes could be used in political disinformation campaigns, corporate sabotage or personal attacks or smears. 

Presidential campaigns have even expressed concern about deepfakes. Last fall, former Vice President Joe Biden’s team asked Facebook and other social media companies to review their policies on potentially deceptive content, according to The Verge. On Monday, Facebook announced a policy on what it called "manipulated media." 

Hernandez and an in-house expert are tasked with researching deepfakes. After identifying content as suspect, Hernandez would tap into a network of contractors, who often employ government-trained image analysts, to identify the content as false.  

"What we have is a series of partner firms that are very focused on forensic analysis," said Marathon founder and CEO Phil Singer. "So we work with them to do the analysis of the images and we’ll do everything else."

Marathon will also help clients conduct deepfake risk assessments and develop crisis plans to address the problem. 

Singer said that Marathon began working on developing a specific offering last fall after one of its political clients asked for help dealing with false accusations. 

"The impetus for putting something together was a project we did for an elected official," he said. "He wasn't the subject of a deepfake video, but he had received a number of electronic communications making false allegations. We started working on it, and we were able to show that the email address from which messages were generated was fake. So we were able to solve that issue and help the elected official without any stories being written, amazingly."

While deepfakes can significantly alter public opinion, Singer said a solid debunking can go a long way to blunting their effect. As a result, a deepfake could unintentionally bolster the reputation of a client, Singer said. 

"Having that data in-hand and being able to show that something is objectively true to use in a defense is something people have not had historically," Singer said.

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