This weekend, a huge march calling for gun control was held in Washington, DC in response to the slaughter of 17 people on February 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Meanwhile, conservative Internet trolls targeted Emma Gonzalez, a student at the school who has become a vocal advocate for gun control, by manipulating a video to tarnish her image. This is just one example of the increasingly sophisticated techniques used to spread disinformation.
Eighteen-year-old Emma Gonzalez was at school in Parkland, Florida on February 14 when a gunman entered the building and killed 17 students. Since then, she and about a dozen other students at the school have been leading a vocal campaign for gun control by targeting the National Rifle Association's (NRA) political influence.
Students from Parkland organised a massive protest in Washington on March 24. More than 800,000 people marched, according to organisers.
Gun rights activists and supporters of the NRA launched a counter attack on social media. In perhaps their most startling post, they used advanced video editing techniques to doctor a video, making it look like Gonzalez was tearing up a copy of the US Constitution – something she didn’t do.
This video is a total fake. It’s actually a doctored version of a different video that Emma Gonzalez made for the site Teen Vogue. In the original video, she rips up a gun target, not the US Constitution.
To doctor the video, they used a relatively advanced form of video editing called "motion tracking", which is available on professional editing software such as After Effects. Motion tracking allows you to insert one or more images into a video.
In this instance, a photo of the US Constitution was pasted over the target. The software allowed the photo of the US Constitution to "move" in a way that replicated the ripping of the target. The quality of the video was also altered, probably so that the manipulation was harder to spot.
This technique was also used to mislead the American public about the actions of US president Donald Trump. An altered video made it look like he was singing the praises of the pilgrimage to Mecca, even though the original footage actually showed him commenting on a photo taken during his inauguration in Washington. See our video below, "Truth or Fake", starting at 5'20".