NEMO Kennislink considers the ten most ‘successful’ fakes in history.

Deepfakes are videos in which computer-generated lookalikes of politicians or other celebrities do or say things they would never have done in real life. With today’s technology, they are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Counterfeits are as old as humanity itself. NEMO Kennislink considers the ten most ‘successful’ fakes in history.

Philosopher Plato warned against it: don’t believe everything you see. Reality can be very different, he wrote 2400 years ago in his work De Staat. In his famous analogy, chained people in a cave look at shadows on one of the walls. If this is all these people ever saw, they might as well believe this is ‘reality’. The reality is more complex.

With a little goodwill, you can extend this advice to the modern world, with hoaxes and misinformation designed to mislead us. For example, there are fast-spreading posts on social media or deepfake videos in which politicians or celebrities seem to say things they never said.

But disinformation is not a modern phenomenon; probably it is as old as man himself. NEMO Kennislink considers the ten most ‘successful’ fakes in history. Of course, the list is incomplete and open to discussion. Yet we make an attempt.

Members of Parliament talk to doppelganger

Last April, members of parliament held a 40-minute meeting with the chief of staff of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. At least, that’s what they thought. They turned out to have a doppelganger on the line. The chief of staff himself – Leonid Volkov – suggested that it was an advanced deepfake, with his face being viciously copied. That later turned out not to be true. It was a doppelganger.

sour wine

In addition to taste, a good wine is also about the story. Research shows that people judge a wine better if they think it is an expensive wine. So the story doesn’t have to be real, and master con artist Rudy Kurniawan used it mercilessly. The businessman bought exclusive wines at auctions for tens of thousands of euros per bottle and effortlessly wound wine enthusiasts around his finger during tastings. He also sold wine and went bankrupt when he offered more bottles of expensive Château Lafleur 1947 than had been produced. Kurniawan turned out to have ripped off the American wine world for millions. In 2013, he was sentenced to ten years in prison. There is a documentary on Netflix about how the scammer refilled expensive wine bottles with cheap wine.

The cloth in which Jesus was wrapped

The age-old canvas with the imprint of the body of a bearded man is undeniably intriguing. According to some Christians, this would be the cloth in which Jesus Christ was wrapped after his crucifixion. The sacred artifact currently resides in the Duomo in Turin. Besides the fact that the man with a height of at least 1.75 meters must have been very tall for someone who lived two thousand years ago, many scientists assume on the basis of modern dating techniques that it is a forgery from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. goes.

Scientific hoaxes

In 1912 British amateur archaeologist Charles Dawson finds pieces of a skull in the ground near the town of Piltdown. He takes it to the paleontologist Arthur Woodward with the claim that he has found the skull of a humanoid species that must be the link between man and ape. It was not until 1953 that it was established that ‘Piltdown Man’ never existed and that (probably) Dawson cheated with an orangutan jaw and the skull of a modern human.

A snapshot of the monster

For centuries there have been rumors of a monster lurking in Scotland’s Loch Ness Lake when Robert Wilson photographed it in 1934. The Daily Mail publishes the photo that becomes famous. For at least half a century, the photo has been cited as proof of the monster’s existence. In the 1970s and 1990s, evidence emerges that the photo is a forgery and that the object in the photo is a fabricated ‘monster’ from, among other things, a toy submarine. The monster has still not been found – after countless search campaigns.

Radio play causes mass hysteria

A strange explosion on Mars, a cylinder crashing near New Jersey and Martians launching the attack. In 1938 panic broke out in the United States when an audience of millions heard the radio play The War of the Worlds. It was an adaptation of HG Wells’ 1898 book in which Earth is attacked by Martians. Some of the audience didn’t seem to realize that the re-enacted news items weren’t real. Afterward, media reported that people had even fled cities, but those reports were likely exaggerated.

Constantine’s fake letter to the Pope

In the 11th and 12th centuries, things did not go well between the popes in Rome and the German emperors, who both had authority over the appointment of high clergy. To underline the authority of the popes, a charter from the fourth century was frequently cited in which the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great gave Pope Silvester I authority as a reward for Constantine’s cure of leprosy. In the 14th century, historians discovered errors in the document. That’s what Constantinople is called, a city that was still called Byzantion at the time of writing. The document turns out to be a forgery of a later date.

Dangerous fake news

On December 4, 2016, Edgar Welch walks into the Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington. He doesn’t want pizza. He fires three shots from his semi-automatic rifle. No one is hurt and Welch is arrested. In the days that followed, his motive came out: he was convinced that presidential candidate Hilary Clinton was running a pedophile network from the pizzeria. He had gotten into the car armed that morning to free captive children. Clinton did not run a pedophile network from this pizzeria, yet the story appeared on various websites and was eagerly shared via social media. Welch had fallen into a fake news trap.

Edited photos of world leaders

You could call it an early form of photoshop when an artist taped the head of US President Abraham Lincoln (right) to the body of politician John Calhoun (left) around 1865. The composition of Calhoun’s original portrait from 1852 must have inspired suspected artist Thomas Hicks to create a ‘heroic’ portrait of Lincoln, who was assassinated that year. Incidentally, there were more (authoritarian) leaders who made fun of reality and, for example, made opponents of photos disappear.

Waging war with information

Information is a weapon that is often used in wars to confuse opponents or influence their morale. For example, British ‘inflatable tanks’ were supposed to mislead the Germans about where and when the landing of troops in France took place. German General Erwin Rommel had his tanks detoured during a military parade in Tripoli in 1941 and then paraded past again to disrupt British intelligence.

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