Deepfake. What started out as a joke between comedians and graphic designers distorting faces has taken a darker turn towards deceiving the American public en masse. The technology allows graphic designers to manipulate the face and voice of a person, oftentimes a celebrity, and broadcast the fake footage to the world wide web, even fooling the President of the United States. One deepfake video portraying Nancy Pelosi stammering through a speech was so realistic that Fox News broadcast the footage. The video was subsequently re-Tweeted by President Trump and gathered millions of views overnight. With videos this realistic, it’s no wonder lawmakers finally intervened.
Here’s a brief synopsis of how “deepfake” works, why it’s so dangerous, and what Texas lawmakers have finally done to stop it from spreading into the world of politics.
What is “Deepfake” Technology?
“Deepfakes” are videos of people who look like, sound like, and act like the real thing. The technology “learns” a particular face and voice, and imitates a mouth as well as a person’s speech. The problem? Deepfakers can make people say whatever they want them to say, as convincingly as they want them to say it. It’s about as creepy as a movie about CIA-based technology being used to alter the words and even the face of a political candidate.
And now, with the advent of quick downloads and file sharing, anyone with a computer can download the software. Amateur online videomakers can now forge a personality and share it with the world. Once used to make politicians say humorous things, the technology is now available to disrupt a political election before it starts.
Illegal Use of Political Ads and News
Viral video-makers on the internet are all too keen on fooling audiences at large. There are 3.7 billion people with access to anything that floats through the internet, and a salacious title accompanied by an eerily realistic version of Nancy Pelosi or Obama can effect America’s vote. Deepfake technology is alarming folks in congress with its ability to portray a politician’s face and effectively let them say whatever deepfakers want them to.
Why It’s So Dangerous
Marco Rubio, in the 2016 presidential hopeful called “deepfakes” on par with modern nuclear weapons, and for obvious reasons. “Deepfake” creates an impression in the mind that demeans a political figure and has the potential to influence the American vote. The videos smear certain candidates in a way that could sway public opinion to the right or to the left if left unchecked. The videos also present a twisting of facts deliberately intended to mislead the American people. If these videos get picked up by celebrity influencers or major media outlets, as they are wont to do, news of a candidate’s supposed “botched” speech spreads like wildfire and can do terrible damage to the candidate’s reputation.
Texas Legislature Finally Outlaws “Deepfake”
Texas is jumping on board to ban Deepfake videos if used to create an impact on an election or candidate. Texas Governor Abbottt signed SB 751 early in the year and set the national precedent for laws governing the “Deepfake” phenomenon. Steven Barish, the Chief Operating Officer of CNF Technology, said the ruling was a major step in addressing the problem of technology affecting political elections. The law itself, he said, could be a pain to enforce, but lauds Texas for being the first to put it into action.
Barish said that the public can easily be duped by the realism of these videos. It’s left to the experts to fact-check the videos and determine whether they’re real or not. In the meantime, Texas legislature insists on not being messed with. With growing numbers flocking to create the newest “fake” video, Texas intents to be hard at work screening these troubling “deepfakes” and keep them out of public broadcasts.
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