By Savannah Throneberry (1L)
What are deepfakes?
The term ‘deepfake’ refers to someone’s face or body being digitally altered, without that person’s consent, with the intention of causing harm to their reputation. For example, the image of Tom Cruise above right is a still from an AI-generated deepfake video using the source material on the left. That is NOT actually Tom Cruise. Deepfakes are often in the context of digitally editing someone into a pornographic photo or video, greatly damaging their reputation.
So, now that we know what deepfakes are, how are they impacting the internet?
Artificial Intelligence, commonly known as AI, is a tool that many view positively as a simulation of human intelligence, in which a digital computer can accomplish tasks of an intelligent being. A recent development has highlighted potential issues that can arise from such technology. Three popular female twitch streamers, known for playing video games to a live audience, QTCinderella, Maya, and Pokimane were recently caught up in a scandal of something known as deepfake porn. Deepfake porn is often created through AI and is considered very realistic.
How did this happen and how far will it spread?
Currently, there are websites on the internet where a person can access deepfake porn and there is no way to stop the spread or bar the videos without seeking legal action. QTCinderalla shared frustrations about these videos spreading around the internet saying, “being seen ‘naked’ against your will should not be a part of this job,” and “it should not be part of my job to have to pay money to get this stuff taken down.”
There have also been growing concerns that deepfake content will spread beyond the porn space and start being used to alter political figures to say things or do things they did not to cause controversy or alter elections. Since deepfakes appear to be so realistic, many people would likely be fooled into believing such fabricated acts really happened. For example, upon the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a deepfake of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy surrendering was posted on a Ukrainian news outlet before being removed.
So let’s just be skeptical of all content, right?
Well, this is alternatively dangerous; there is a concern that corrupt people will over identify things as being a deepfake. This too can impact public opinions and voting. Saying things like the media is a deepfake or news being reported on corruption is a deepfake when in reality it is not could have equally disastrous effects. This distortion of what is reality and what is a fabrication will likely have devastating results on public trust. Karen Hao, a senior AI editor at MIT Technology Review warns that “[u]ndermining trust in the media can have deep repercussions, particularly in fragile political environments.”
In trials, would video evidence still be enough when defendants assert that evidence is a deepfake? Or, in instances of police brutality or war, are we seeing real footage or a deepfake? As the lines of reality and technology blur, it raises further distrust among people and concern for the future of public forums, media, and news publications that are susceptible to powerful actors who desire to distort the truth.
Is all hope lost? Fear not!
While it is uncertain where the future of AI will lead, it is certain that regulation is needed to help minimize such devastating actions from occurring in the future. Before deepfakes become too large of a concern, actions need to be taken to clearly define fiction from reality. Companies like Facebook and Google have been working towards software that can identify deepfakes through detection algorithms and watermarks. Another ideal future step would be to train social media employees to spot and flag deepfakes as early as possible.
Being overly skeptical can be just as dangerous as not being aware of an issue. This is a fine line to tread as society works together to navigate the emergence of deepfakes.
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