Hannah Thurman Headshot

During the past few years, advances in artificial intelligence have enabled parallel advances in the world of deepfakes, manipulated videos that can literally put words in subjects’ mouths. Previously, falsifying a video required hours of labor and powerful software capable of editing individual video frames. Now, AI can speed that process to just a few minutes, allowing ordinary users to update a video so that the subject says whatever they type in

Credible-looking deepfakes of high-profile individuals like Nancy Pelosi and Mark Zuckerberg have gone viral in recent months, fooling mass audiences into believing that they’re watching an event that never actually took place. These incidents have sparked concern as more and more internet users wonder whom they can trust online.

For the medical world in particular, this proposition can be dangerous. In order to draw attention to the risks of deepfakes in the hospital setting, researchers in Israel developed malware technology that can automatically add realistic malignancies to CT scans or remove actual evidence of cancer. Radiologists who saw the altered images were almost always fooled; further research by the team revealed how easy it was to sneak into a hospital after hours to connect the malware to their network.

Those of us who work in this field know and clients and customers rely on our communications to be truthful—after all, peoples’ health is on the line. But in the digital space, how can we ensure that our customers believe what we’re saying? Although there is no one-size-fits-all solution, here are some of the ways we ensure that brand messaging rings true across the ecosystem of promotion. 

Stay transparent. 

Across all digital media, we make it clear what assets are promoted and sponsored. We engender good will among our audiences by using UX best practices to promote engagement with online assets (which is to say: we stay away from clickbait-style links).

Think offline, too. 

Although digital media can offer reach and scale, we recommend connecting with HCPs at conferences or with patients and caregivers at in-person events or through direct mail. This builds trust and provides a memorable experience.

Have a plan for combatting misinformation. 

On platforms with two-way communication, we make sure that our community management teams can quickly and accurately respond to comments that spread rumors, untrue statements or troll.

Consider the possibilities for healthcare research. 

Across many of the categories in which we work, AI is becoming an important tool for diagnosis. But in order to train AI programs to recognize tumors or other diseases, the programs need a wealth of images from which to learn. The same deepfake technology that can be used maliciously to insert tumors into tumor-free scans can build a broad image library to teach AI what tumors look like.

Use fakes for good. 

We’ve recently been inspired by Norwegian fashion brand Carlings, which launched a digital-only clothing collection that they promote as zero-emission. Instead of producing and shipping actual articles of clothing, the company uses “digital tailors” to Photoshop the products onto users’ photos. The process is 100% fake and 100% eco-friendly.

We use examples like these to spark new thinking among our creative teams and encourage them to come up with these sorts of digital solutions in the healthcare space as well. In a category like multiple sclerosis or cystic fibrosis, where patients with mobility concerns or compromised immune systems are unable to travel to patient events, we can digitally insert their chosen avatar into photos from the in-person gathering for them to share on their social feeds. This transparent fake can help patients connect with others in their disease-state community in a way that generates engagement.

As technology continues to evolve and digital usage grows, these considerations will become even more important. Someday, users may be spending more time in the digital world than the physical one – and when they interact with your brand there, authenticity matters most.  

Hannah Thurman is VP, director, engagement strategy at FCB Health New York