Seeking truth amid misinformation and deepfakes

Fazal Masood Malik and Farhan Khokhar, Canada

The proliferation of misinformation in recent years has had a corrosive impact at every level of society. From the personal to the national and economic, the spread of falsehoods and deception is eroding the foundations of truth and trust that modern civilisation rests upon.

As Ahmadi Muslims, we have an ethical duty to verify information before sharing it. The Holy Prophetsa has warned us, “It is enough for a man to prove himself a liar when he goes on narrating whatever he hears,” (Riyad as-Salihin, Kitab al-umuri l-manhy ‘anha, Hadith 1547), emphasising how easily one can unknowingly spread falsehoods and damage communal trust.

This dedication to truth is further reinforced by the Quranic injunction, “That Allah may reward the truthful for their truth” (Surah al-Ahzab Ch.33: V.24). This injunction emphasises the high value placed on truthfulness and the expectation that Muslims ensure the accuracy of the information they share. This commitment to truth is not just about avoiding falsehood but an expression of piety and awareness of Allah’s presence.

At the personal level, the rise of deepfake technology has enabled a disturbing new frontier of misinformation. Highly convincing fake videos and images can now be generated to depict people doing or saying things they never actually did. This has led to an increase in the non-consensual use of deepfake technology, causing immense harm and trauma to individuals depicted in unauthorised contexts. (How Deepfakes are Impacting Culture, Privacy, and Reputation”, Even beyond these appalling cases, the ease with which visuals can be manipulated means people are becoming desensitised to trusting what they see. If something aligns with their existing beliefs, they’re increasingly likely to accept it at face value without question – a term known as confirmation bias.  In the face of such vile, the old adage, “Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear”, is a piece of advice that benefits all, when it comes to navigating the complex landscape of modern media.

Social media has become an uncontrolled source of potentially false information. Conspiracy theories, manipulated evidence, and harmful propaganda can now spread rapidly to large numbers of people, bypassing the traditional gatekeepers of legacy media outlets. The danger of how quickly misinformation can go viral was clearly demonstrated when a photo supposedly showing Britain’s future queen consort was quickly disavowed after it was revealed the image had been digitally edited without proper disclosure – an uncharacteristic mistake that damaged the credibility of the iconic brand that released it.

This troubling trend of rampant misinformation extends beyond the personal sphere to the national level as well. We have seen how skilled disinformation campaigns, often state-sponsored, can sow discord, erode social cohesion, and distort political narratives. The 2017 Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, fueled by hate speech and misinformation spread on Facebook, is a chilling example. (“Myanmar: Facebook’s Systems Promoted Violence Against Rohingya; Meta Owes Reparations”, And the 2016 US presidential election was profoundly shaped by the activities of the now-infamous Cambridge Analytica, which used sophisticated psychographic targeting to influence voter behaviour (“Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far”, Today, the level of technological sophistication in these efforts has grown exponentially, making it virtually impossible for the average citizen to discern truth from fiction.

While technology companies in Silicon Valley have created many beneficial innovations for society, they have also unleashed a shadowy world of artificial or synthetic media whose deceptively realistic simulations pose a severe challenge. In Pakistan, malicious groups have even weaponised this technology to misrepresent sacred religious texts as a way to justify persecuting minority sects, especially the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat. Distinguishing what is real from what is fake is becoming increasingly difficult.

The economic ramifications are the most insidious. As trust is the foundation of any functioning market economy, the rampant proliferation of fraud, scams, and deception online threatens to undermine the entire system. Estimates suggest online fraud costs the global economy over $5 trillion annually. (“Fraud costs the global economy over US$5 trillion”, When people can no longer rely on the veracity of information, commerce grinds to a halt. A society corrupted by misinformation can never achieve true economic stability or prosperity.

To counter this existential threat, a multipronged approach is required. Media organisations must redouble their commitment to rigorous fact-checking and impartial reporting using the latest verification tools. Technology companies must be held accountable for the algorithms and business models that incentivise the spread of falsehoods. The public must be empowered with digital literacy skills to critically evaluate the information they encounter online.

The stakes could not be higher. If we fail to stem the tide of misinformation, we risk the unravelling of the social contract, the collapse of democratic institutions, and the erosion of the economic foundations that underpin modern civilisation. The time to act is now before the damage becomes irreparable.

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