Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How to Digitally Fake A Video (or, They Only See What They Want To See)

My attention was drawn this week to some rather arrogant and ignorant comments made by a blogger/gadfly/wanna-be pontificator who, it seems, would like to dictate to everyone in the world what their assigned places in the world should be. This particular blogger mentioned the murder of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri, and stated that a surveillance camera video had surfaced that showed Mr. Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store shortly before he was shot. Thus, in the mind of this particular blogger, the shooting of Mr. Brown was no crime, but rather the judgment of a righteous society against a Black population that insists on remaining stubbornly dysfunctional.

There are only three problems with this argument. First, it is very easy nowadays to alter digital video – assuming that the original video was authentically made by a convenience store video camera. If you want to know just how easy video can be altered, read this 2007 article from Scientific American. Or you can read this, or this.

Or, you can just watch the video yourself. And that leads to the second problem.  The video sample I have selected is representative of the quality one would expect from typical store surveillance cameras; in other words, you don't use cameras like these to take pictures of the rings of Saturn or to shoot blockbuster movies. You tell me: who can positively identify the faces of anyone in the video? (If you want another version of the video, watch this. See how much clearer the image of the Fox News liar is than the images of any of the people in the alleged robbery video? Also note in the beginning of this clip, that Michael Brown wasn't the only person in the world who liked red hats and white T-shirts.)
The third problem, of course, is that the police let slip the fact that officer Darren Wilson did not know about the alleged robbery when he stopped Michael Brown. Thus Mr. Wilson's act looks increasingly like what I have called it: murder.

A person who has learned how to think would ask the following questions about video evidence: first, what are typical surveillance camera capabilities (i.e., image quality, resolution, low-light performance, etc)? Second, how easy is it for an ordinary person to alter a digital video (and the vast majority of videos nowadays are digital), or to create a fake video from scratch? Third, are there unaltered, untampered 9-1-1 calls from Ferguson, Missouri, describing a convenience store robbery on the day that Michael Brown was shot? Fourth, what motivations would the various players in this drama have for lying? Fifth, what sort of track record does the Ferguson police department have in regard to misconduct? Sixth, how often are unarmed Black men shot in this country?

The answers to all these questions might be deeply upsetting to those who enjoy the rapidly fading vestiges of Anglo-American privilege. But the willingness to ask the questions and to face the answers would separate honest people from dishonest gadflies who hold and voice opinions simply because they like them, regardless of the facts. Again, I am thinking of the blogger I mentioned at the first, who said during the most recent race riots in England that the British had a problem with immigration (and who disregarded the way the British violated and victimized nonwhite residents and citizens), and who said that Haitians were starving because Haiti had a population control problem (without considering how multinational corporations had stolen everything they could steal from that country). How easy it is to blame the victims for the injuries you have inflicted.


Anonymous said...

I have reviewed hours of video footage at work, where we had some vandalism, so I know just how high the standard of quality is required for the police to act.

Even if Mr Brown had been a prior employee of that store, and the owner able to identify him (as in our case, we knew who it was, AND he had previously issued threats), they would not bring charges on such low-quality evidence - a warning to Mr. Brown maybe.

We failed to get the police to act on much better quality video than that released to the public. Even if the video is not tampered with, the police know full well that it was too low a quality to bring about a conviction in a court of law. Most departments would be embarrassed to even present such shoddy images without collaboration from other sources.

If it would not stand up in a court of law, why present it to the court of human opinion?

Aimee said...

Everything you say here is true, but to my mind completely misses the main point, which is that even if Michael Brown were unequivocally guilty of robbing that store, there is still no justification for the shooting. Since when does knocking over a convienance store merit extra-judicial execution?

TH in SoC said...

Hello Aimee,
Thanks for your continued readership. I would just say that Michael Brown's guilt is a key factor in this story. You are correct that the shooting of an unarmed man is unjustified. But the release by the police of a grainy, low-resolution video alleging Michael Brown's guilt in robbing a convenience store is part of a continuing attempt to paint all young Black American men as potential criminals. The "liberal" response to such criminalization is to say, "Well, all kids get into trouble...but Michael Brown didn't deserve to get shot to death for causing trouble." In other words, let's cut the little criminals some slack. It's somewhat like the attitude held by some liberals toward education of minorities, where they say things like, "We've got to take into account how Black boys learn!" I don't know Michael Brown's family, but I'm fairly confident that they are not looking for that kind of sympathy right now, as that kind of sympathy is nothing more than a continued injury against their son.

TH in SoC said...

I forgot to add this, but my position is that the facts so far point to the conclusion that Michael Brown was murdered utterly without cause, and that the Ferguson police are liars.

Aimee said...

Ouch. I hadn't seen my comments in the light that you cast on them. I apologize if I was unwittingly offensive. It seems to me that your point and my point are both valid but fundamentally unrelated. Looking at what I said, I see that my comment may condemn police brutality and overreach, but doesn't at all address the issue you were articulating. Yes, I agree with you that the police's (and be extension, the government's) production of this false video is part of a nationwide campaign to dehumanize people of color and consolidate their own power by enlisting the "sympathy" of the white/middle class "majority." I see this type of cynical manipulation of images and words all the time with regards to immigrants and the poor and homeless, too. Sometimes the tactics used are so clumsy and gross that I wonder how they can be effective (i.e., the politician who said the child refugees at the border were bring Ebola to the US). I think the only way is if the listeners are actively complicit, willing themselves to believe patent idiocies.