Media Science

Unbelievable Twist: ‘War of the Worlds’ Radio Deepfake?

The notorious “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast of 1938, narrated by Orson Welles, is examined through a modern lens in a new podcast episode, suggesting parallels with the concept of a deepfake. A deepfake involves manipulating images or videos to appear authentic, often without alerting the viewer to the manipulation. The podcast, part of the “We Interrupt This Broadcast” series, delves into this comparison and explores the broader theme of manipulating information for specific purposes. The episode, hosted by Bill Kurtis and narrated by NBC’s Brian Williams, draws from Joe Garner’s 2008 book of the same name.

The “War of the Worlds” broadcast, which occurred on October 30, 1938, shocked radio audiences with a fictitious news report detailing an “alien invasion” in New Jersey. Contextually, this event unfolded on the cusp of World War II, heightening anxieties and leveraging radio, the primary news medium of the time. While historical accounts vary on the extent of audience panic, urban legend investigator Snopes suggests that reports of widespread hysteria were likely “mostly false.” Slate adds that the simultaneous airing with a more popular show could have limited the broadcast’s impact.

Despite uncertainties about the panic’s magnitude, the podcast contends that the manipulation of information during the broadcast offers relevant insights today. Brian Williams, in the preview of the episode, draws parallels between the 1938 broadcast and contemporary challenges of fake news, misinformation, and disinformation. The discussion extends to the modern era of deepfakes and algorithm-driven news consumption, raising questions about media literacy.

Media literacy, a rapidly evolving concept, confronts challenges posed by misinformation. The podcast encourages reflection on the potential impact of manipulation in the current landscape, where news is curated by algorithms and deepfakes can deceive unsuspecting audiences. Drawing from the University of Michigan’s guide, which differentiates between fake news, misinformation, and disinformation, the podcast emphasizes the importance of critical thinking in navigating the complex realm of digital information., a non-profit dedicated to teaching media literacy, underscores the challenges of interpreting digital media. Their guide encourages questioning the source, purpose, and techniques employed in creating information. As algorithms increasingly filter and generate news, the importance of scrutinizing the origin, intent, and credibility of media becomes paramount. The podcast prompts listeners to consider the complexity of media literacy in an era where digital technology allows anyone to create content, and information is disseminated through diverse channels.

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