The weapon of deep fake – Manuel Delia

Fake emails sent out to journalists looking like they came from Manuel Delia

Fri, Aug 27th 2021, 12:43 Last updated on 29/8/21

Manuel Delia

offline
Journalists started receiving e-mails that included what looked like links to posts on the author’s blog. Photo: Shutterstock.com

I am by no means the only journalist or activist to be targeted for isolation and to be discredited with lies. I’m sorry that this piece is going to be about me. Firstly, because my job is not to write an extended autobiography but to write about the bad guys around us. Secondly, because I’d rather not have had to worry about myself at all. But here we are.

For some time, I’ve been receiving WhatsApp messages from unknown numbers abroad telling me I should stop criticising Simon Mercieca, the history professor who moonlights as a blogger “seeking justice for Yorgen Fenech”.

I tried ignoring them but this was around the time when news came out that Fenech had spoken with lawyers in the UK about suing me for “an absurd figure” that would have ruined me. So, I wasn’t in a good place.

The news about Fenech’s plans refreshed the shock I had felt reading in this newspaper that Heathcliff Farrugia, who then ran the Malta Gaming Authority, had warned Fenech to watch out when dealing with me because “dak Manuel Delia veru aħdar”.

If anyone tells you they are fearless, that none of this stuff affects them, they are endowed with some power I’m not. I do feel fear.

About a week ago, journalists from a number of newsrooms told me they received e-mails that looked like they were coming out of my mailbox. In the fake e-mails, I admitted I apologised for criticising Mercieca because I hadn’t been taking my medication. The journalists who sent me copies of these e-mails said they were obvious hoaxes. But I know they were discreetly and professionally double-checking if they truly had been.

The fake e-mails became a daily affair as more journalists kept telling me they received different e-mails that looked out of character for me to write.

The topic of the e-mails moved from Mercieca to the lawyers appearing for Fenech, particularly Charles Mercieca. Again, the general theme was admitting being crazy to have criticised them.

Things then took a sinister turn when journalists discovered in their mailbox a thread of e-mails purportedly exchanged between Jason Azzopardi and me.

If the exchange had been genuine, it would have confirmed a number of conspiracy theories.

It would have confirmed the accusation that Fenech made in a protest in court last week that Azzopardi and I “coordinated” an “attack” to “influence the decision” of Mr Justice Giovanni Grixti.

It would also have confirmed the speculative allegation made into rhetorical questions asked by online commenter Christian Grima that Azzopardi would want the content of Keith Schembri’s phone to be hidden.

Fake Azzopardi tells fake me that fake police chief Angelo Gafà promised him he would hide fake e-mails exchanged with fake Schembri.

"
I do feel fear- Manuel Delia
"

It should all be ridiculous. But Azzopardi’s credibility has been under assault for months now.

The editor who told me about this fake e-mail exchange gave me cause to sweat. The junior reporter who found it in his e-mail came to him all excited believing he was on to a scoop and a scandal.

It got worse. Journalists started receiving e-mails that included what looked like links to posts on my blog. The links would open pages that looked very much like my website except that I was writing the sort of crap that was going out in those fake e-mails earlier last week.

And, now, the real trouble set in because people who saw those pages that were identical to my website in all but the words written on it believed them to be authentic.

Now, friends of mine and expert journalists who follow this story hour by hour began to assume I had really gone mad.

At one point, Mercieca posted an article on his blog alleging Repubblika pay me €30,000 a year and pay my wife rent for the office it uses. Both allegations are untrue but, on a fake imitation of my page, I appeared to admit all that.

The fake website is hosted on the domain ‘emanueldelia.com’ while my website is on ‘manueldelia.com’. But who would notice?

Screenshots from these fabricated pages will run riot on social media and no facts, no truth, no categorical denial will have a dent on their devastating impact. People like Schembri and Konrad Mizzi (and Fenech) have completely destroyed the effect of a denial. The simple phrase “it is not true” is not worth anything anymore. In the meantime, these fake imitations of websites have the effect of knocking the original from Google searches and it will be harder for those looking for my authentic version of the website to find it at all.

I could say that this won’t stop me and sound all bullish and defiant to you. But the truth is this could finish me off. Most people start out by assuming I’m not credible to begin with. Seeing this fake ‘evidence’ of my madness with their own eyes will confirm their prejudices beyond repair. That’s while I’m knocked off search engines and made instead a laughing stock like the village nutter who can’t remember to take his pills.

I could say I will fight back. But I spent most of last week replying to rightly perplexed journalists, briefing the police, filling technical reports and asking IT specialists and lawyers to help me draw up paperwork, instead of actually doing my job as a journalist. And I’m nowhere near done.

Soon, I’ll have to admit I cannot afford the time, the cost or the energy it takes to calm my family’s frayed nerves about whether this electronic violence could turn physical at some point. After all, Fenech is, inevitably, a suspect here.

And I’m just about done.