Deepfakes have shaken governments abroad

Gabonese President Ali Bongo was absent from public life throughout much of 2018 due to his receiving medical treatments abroad in London and Saudi Arabia. As his absence persisted, and news of his whereabouts sparse, some began to question his condition and even declare him to be dead.

The government put out vague and at times conflicting statements about Bongo’s health. Then, on December 31 2018, he appeared in a video to deliver a new year’s address.

Bongo’s stilted movements and the staged quality of the video caused many (including political rival Bruno Ben Moubamba) to declare the video a deepfake, used to cover up his poor condition.

Sensing an opportunity to seize power during this period of instability, members of Gabon’s military then attempted a coup (which was ultimately unsuccessful).

Forensic analysis of the video has not revealed that it was, in fact, a deepfake. His appearance was most likely the result of makeup, poor health, and cosmetic surgery.

References Ali Breland, “The Bizarre and Terrible Case of the ‘Deepfake Video’ that Helped Bring an African Nation to the Brink,” Mother Jones, March 15, 2019. Sarah Cahlan, “How Misinformation Helped Spark a Coup in Gabon,” Washington Post, February 13, 2020. Povo News video on YouTube, “Gabon President Ali Bongo 2019 New Years Message,” December 31, 2018. Background theme image from Shutterstock.

10 of 25