Skip to Content
Artificial intelligence

Facebook just released a database of 100,000 deepfakes to teach AI how to spot them

The videos are designed to help improve AI’s performance—as even the best methods are still not accurate enough.

Deepfakes⁠ have struck a nerve with the public and researchers alike. There is something uniquely disturbing about these AI-generated images of people appearing to say or do something they didn’t.

With tools for making deepfakes now widely available and relatively easy to use, many also worry that they will be used to spread dangerous misinformation. Politicians can have other people’s words put into their mouths or made to participate in situations they did not take part in, for example.

That’s the fear, at least. To a human eye, the truth is that deepfakes are still relatively easy to spot. And according to a report from cybersecurity firm DeepTrace Labs in October 2019, still the most comprehensive to date, they have not been used in any disinformation campaign. Yet the same report also found that the number of deepfakes posted online was growing quickly, with around 15,000 appearing in the previous seven months. That number will be far larger now.

Social-media companies are concerned that deepfakes could soon flood their sites. But detecting them automatically is hard. To address the problem, Facebook wants to use AI to help fight back against AI-generated fakes. To train AIs to spot manipulated videos, it is releasing the largest ever data set of deepfakes⁠—more than 100,000 clips produced using 3,426 actors and a range of existing face-swapping techniques.

“Deepfakes are currently not a big issue,” says Facebook’s CTO, Mike Schroepfer. “But the lesson I learned the hard way over last couple years is not to be caught flat-footed. I want to be really prepared for a lot of bad stuff that never happens rather than the other way around.”

Facebook has also announced the winner of its Deepfake Detection Challenge, in which 2,114 participants submitted around 35,000 models trained on its data set. The best model, developed by Selim Seferbekov, a machine-learning engineer at mapping firm Mapbox, was able to detect whether a video was a deepfake with 65% accuracy when tested on a set of 10,000 previously unseen clips, including a mix of new videos generated by Facebook and existing ones taken from the internet.

To make things harder, the training set and test set include videos that a detection system might be confused by, such as people giving makeup tutorials, and videos that have been tweaked by pasting text and shapes over the speakers’ faces, changing the resolution or orientation, and slowing them down.

Rather than learning forensic techniques, such as looking for digital fingerprints in the pixels of a video left behind by the deepfake generation process, the top five entries seem to have learned to spot when something looked “off,” as a human might do.

To do this, the winners all used a new type of convolutional neural network (CNN) developed by Google researchers last year, called EfficientNets. CNNs are commonly used to analyze images and are good at detecting faces or recognizing objects. Improving their accuracy beyond a certain point can require ad hoc fine-tuning, however. EfficientNets provide a more structured way to tune, making it easier to develop more accurate models. But exactly what it is that makes them outperform other neural networks on this task isn’t clear, says Seferbekov.

Facebook does not plan to use any of the winning models on its site. For one thing, 65% accuracy is not yet good enough to be useful. Some models achieved more than 80% accuracy with the training data, but this dropped when pitted against unseen clips. Generalizing to new videos, which can include different faces swapped in using different techniques, is the hardest part of the challenge, says Seferbekov.

He thinks that one way to improve detection would be to focus on the transitions between video frames, tracking them over time. “Even very high-quality deepfakes have some flickering between frames,” says Seferbekov. Humans are good at spotting these inconsistencies, especially in footage of faces. But catching these telltale defects automatically will require larger and more varied training data and a lot more computing power. Seferbekov tried to track these frame transitions but couldn’t. “CPU was a real bottleneck there,” he says.

Facebook suggests that deepfake detection may also be improved by using techniques that go beyond the analysis of an image or video itself, such as assessing its context or provenance.

Sam Gregory, who directs Witness, a project that supports human rights activists in their use of video technologies, welcomes the investment of social-media platforms in deepfake detection. Witness is a member of Partnership on AI, which advised Facebook on its data set. Gregory agrees with Schroepfer that it is worth preparing for the worst. “We haven’t had the deepfake apocalyps,e but these tools are a very nasty addition to gender-based violence and misinformation,” he says. For example, the DeepTrace Labs report found that 96% of deepfakes were nonconsensual pornography, in which other people’s faces are pasted over those of performers in porn clips. 

When millions of people are able to create and share videos, trusting what we see is more important than ever. Fake news spreads through Facebook like wildfire, and the mere possibility of deepfakes sows doubt, making us more likely to question genuine footage as well as fake.

What’s more, automatic detection may soon be our only option. “In the future we will see deepfakes that cannot be distinguished by humans,” says Seferbekov.

Deep Dive

Artificial intelligence

DeepMind’s cofounder: Generative AI is just a phase. What’s next is interactive AI.

“This is a profound moment in the history of technology,” says Mustafa Suleyman.

Deepfakes of Chinese influencers are livestreaming 24/7

With just a few minutes of sample video and $1,000, brands never have to stop selling their products.

AI hype is built on high test scores. Those tests are flawed.

With hopes and fears about the technology running wild, it's time to agree on what it can and can't do.

You need to talk to your kid about AI. Here are 6 things you should say.

As children start back at school this week, it’s not just ChatGPT you need to be thinking about.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.