What are Deepfakes and Why do they Matter?

Imagine waking up and finding out that someone paid to see images of you naked without your consent. Now imagine that these images and videos have your face but not your body and you’ve never taken pictures of yourself even in these positions. This is a story that many celebrities, especially women, have experienced. This breach of privacy is just expanding and our laws are not catching up to these violations. In this article my goal is to define and discuss the ethic of deepfakes.

Photomanipulation has existed ever since the ability to capture photos existed. Deepfakes; however, have only existed since the 90s. Deepfakes by definition are a type of photomanipulation in which you take someone’s face and put it onto someone else’s body that is extremely convincing. Deepfakes use machine and ai learning to manipulate images, videos, and or audio. In fact there’s a deep fake tiktok account of Robert Pattinson that is so convincing his friends even questioned him about it and his response, “It’s terrifying”. And he’s right. Buzzfeed wrote an article on the account in question. As you can see with this technology it’s very easy to get into spicy territory. The thing is deepfake tech hasn’t been readily available until the last few years. It’s largely been used for research in film and at the academic levels. Something called The Video Rewrite Program in 1997 was a major development early on using facial reanimation to sync new audio with already filmed footage. This system was fully automated and has only improved at both the academic level and the amateur levels. 

First I should probably back up and explain why I’m even writing this article. Recently a Twitch streamer by the name of Atrioc was caught while on stream actively streaming porn deepfakes of fellow streamers and friends. This blew up the internet in the Twitch streamer world for valid reasons that I do not plan on addressing in this article (other outlets such as Kotaku already go over this). It definitely put a spotlight on the negatives of deepfakes and how they can be used to harm people because they were made without the consent of the women depicted. According to Atrioc’s Twitch bio he ‘Works in Marketing in gaming”, starting at Twitch eventually moving to NVidia, and ultimately starting his own Creative Agency, OFFBRAND, to help creators with marketing needs. However, in his apology twitlonger, he anounced that he stepped down from his position with the company and content creation all together. He also stated that he is working with a law firm to help take down the site he used (which has been removed since writing this article) and he plans on covering all charges for those involved to get their images removed. Whether or not he holds to his word only time will tell.

Deepfakes started cropping up in mainstream way more and eventually developed the name in 2017 by a reddit user u/deepfake. In 2018 the app called FakeApp was launched commercially catapulting this tech into our now daily lives.

Photomanipulation is a common thing and deepfakes as stated before are just very convincing photomanipulations; however, this new tech has already shown that when in the wrong hands it can really harm people and there are no real consequences. In my research there are only four states that even have anything about deepfakes on the books; California, Virginia, Georgia, and New York (CCRI). Most of these laws revolve around sexually explicit content but that is not the limited scope of what deepfakes can do. This also doesn’t do anything to prevent them from happening: everyone is susceptible. There are also no national laws that specifically address deepfakes so where do we go from here?

There are a number of things that can be done but first just a reminder to the readers that EVERYONE is vulnerable to deepfakes. If anything exists on the internet, it’s up for grabs. This is not exclusive to celebrities, and the more marginalized you are the more likely you are to be a victim. Be aware that this tech can be used to push any narrative someone wants. It’s dangerous but it doesn’t have to be scary. We need a way to properly identify deepfakes and we need laws that will support victims in these crimes when they occur. Deepfakes can be used for good but right now they reside in the wild west of the internet, so we need to continue bringing awareness to their existence and pushing our representatives to catch up to the 21st century and start addressing this issue before it gets even more out of hand.

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