Digital Visual Literacy and Fake Faces

Hello Integrating Technology Colleagues,

In October 2019, in Integrating Technology, we had a fascinating panel discussion on education applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR),  We have also had many discussions in LINCS groups about media literacy, usually focusing on how to sort out truth from fiction, lies, or distortions in text, whether hard copy or digital. I want to bring these two topics together and focus on a new aspect, digital visual literacy. Visual literacy is "the ability to read, write and create visual images. It is a concept that relates to art and design but it also has much wider applications. Visual literacy is about language, communication and interaction.  Visual media is a linguistic tool with which we communicate, exchange ideas and navigate our complex world."(

There are many aspects of visual literacy; this one focuses on how to read human faces. In the past, this might have meant reading emotions on faces, judging for example if a person is warm or hostile, open or closed, alert or tired, optimistic or pessimistic. But there are new digital aspects of visual literacy as a result of artificial intelligence, some that result from its errors, others from its increasing refinement. These have to do with sorting and interpreting images of people. You may be aware of the problems when artificial intelligence is used to identify someone who may have committed a criminal act, and in particular how this tool can misidentify people, especially of color. You -- and your students -- might not be aware however of the creation of entirely fake human images. AI can create still or animated images of what, to the unsuspecting eye, look like actual humans. This article from the the Science section of the New York Times, "Designed to Deceive: Do These People Look Real to You?" By Kashmir Hill and Jeremy White provides some examples, and shows ways that a reader can recognize if a digital photo is fake. Often, it isn't easy to tell.

How can you, and the students you may teach, avoid being taken in by "fake people" images? Being aware that photos can be distorted, photoshopped, or entirely fake is important. Being aware of the purpose of the text you are reading, for example, whether it is informative, editorial, or persuasive/hortatory, and of the possible role in it of the image or video of a human being is also important. It's also good to consider what you know about the source, for example, how reliable, honest and unbiased it may or may not be, and all of the other factors needed to sort out facts and truth from fiction, distortion and lies. 

Do you think this article would interest your students? Could you use it in your online or in-person classes? If so, how would you use it? If you decide to develop a media literacy lesson on how artificial intelligence can create 'fake people" and what readers can do about it, let us know how the lesson is received, and send us a link to your lesson plan so that others might benefit.  

David J. Rosen, Moderator

LINCS Community Integrating Technology group