Imagine that you want to ruin my reputation. You decide to post a video of me torturing dogs on YouTube. Now, I don’t torture dogs in the real world… but perception is everything, and new technology is ever more able to create convincing perception. You have some surreptitiously recorded video of me wielding a knife and fork at a restaurant. From the same venue (or another), you have audio of me as I laugh and casually converse. You splice this in seamlessly to sequences where dogs are squirming and yelping in a piteous manner. Oh, those poor dogs! Oh, that savage bastard!
I doubt that technology has quite reached the point of seamlessness: experts at this moment could probably unravel your evil scheme. But in a few short years, I’d wager that the product could likely defy the scrutiny of elite investigators, and for about the cost of a software program like PhotoShop a decade ago. More importantly, the images will already be playing before the world’s eye before their fraud is decisively proved! A cynical public will greet news of the fraud as itself a fraud. Sure, Harris is innocent! He’s paid off someone to say that.
People who like me or support my faction will insist upon my having been framed no matter what evidence they see. “Everyone knows you can fake that stuff!” People who dislike me or my coterie will insist that truth most certainly underlies some of the evidence: “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” Very soon, no evidence of any sort will have any effect. Your guys do no wrong: their guys do no right.
Are we not already there? Technology has so successfully blurred the line between reality and fantasy that deciding guilt is no longer even a matter of verifying the deeds represented on a video. We’re prepared to concede, rather, that everybody is guilty of everything… and so nobody is guilty of anything. We don’t care about the merits of the particular case. Instead, we take a “so what?” attitude. Innocence, as now defined, is conferred upon our guy by his supporting of our cause. If he wears our colors, then he does no wrong.
I don’t write these comments with any insinuation that Donald Trump actually did the things alleged of him in the scurrilous Buzz Feed story. The whole incident gives us just a little taste, however, of what awaits us in the future. Everybody will be guilty of everything… so nobody will be guilty of anything, as long as he spouts your slogans. Death by cynicism. Eradication of truth by truth-mimicking technology. The virtual world of tomorrow–of this evening–could quickly become a literal hell.