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Regulating Deepfake Abuse

Updated: Apr 2

Nowadays, sending face-altering images or “face-swapping” with friends has become a new norm for children, teens and young adults. These widely available tools on social media are enthralling. They’re also innocent in nature, right?


What many fail to see is the devastation that the exploitation of this tech can bring to society. As visual and audio editing continues to gain popularity and become more advanced, people have found ways to exploit it for malicious purposes. 


These technologies have provided criminals with a new avenue for wreaking havoc on the political system, giving them the ability to spread false information and launch personal attacks against others by creating and posting damaging content online. Due to the prominence of such crimes around the world today, these tools were given their own name — “deepfake technologies.”


Deepfakes — digitally altered images, videos and/or audios of a person — have now become so sophisticated that unbelievably convincing, yet completely falsified content can be created with just one photo, video or audio recording.


This initially innocent, dazzling tech has been weaponized, particularly against women. Studies have found that deepfakes of a pornographic nature account for a stunning 99 percent of all falsified content, of which 96 percent of the female faces are taken from women unrelated to the original image or video. 


This technology has been used to significantly impede democratic processes. With the program’s capability to make anyone say or do anything that a user wants them to, one can create “evidence” to back up disinformation campaigns. In 2019, Texas became the first state to ban the use of deepfake technology to influence political elections; still, the consequence if convicted is a mere misdemeanor. 


We lack good policy on deepfakes. Either we aren’t regulating the technology or our punishments are too lenient. Currently, only a handful of state laws and one heavily criticized federal law on the use of deepfake technology are in place. 


The ineffective and insufficient number of policies is gravely concerning. Just look at the rising amount of deepfake content being spread across the U.S. and the continuously advancing capabilities of these technologies.


While it is easy to criticize policy, or the lack thereof in this case, it is equally important to recognize the complexity of this issue. While solutions have been thrown around, such as prohibiting the industry from further developing the technology and banning the use of it altogether, it has proven extremely difficult for policymakers to reach a consensus. 


The arguments — whether to continue taking the laissez-faire approach in order to keep governmental intervention from reaching the private sector or to prioritize the welfare of people by limiting the supply of this technology — largely align with the fundamental differences between our major political parties, fueling animosity between the two. 


This unceasing polarity makes finding common ground difficult. But we have to. For our democracy to survive, for our identities and dignity to be protected, we must regulate deepfake abuse.


The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.


Min-Fang (Amber) Luo is a graduate student, studying Global Public Policy at Suffolk University. She holds a bachelor's degree in Applied Psychology from New York University. As both a Taiwanese and Canadian citizen, she was often intrigued by the differences between the two governments. Her interest grew into a passion after working in the psychology field upon completing her bachelor’s degree, as she was heart-broken by the realization that many of the people who need the most help often fall through cracks in the system. 


Sources: 

Briscoe, Scott. “U.S. Laws Address Deepfakes”. Advancing Security Worldwide, Jan. 12, 2021, https://www.asisonline.org/security-management-magazine/latest-news/today-in-security/2021/january/U-S-Laws-Address-Deepfakes/.

Çolak, Betül. “Legal Issues of Deepfakes”. The Institute for Internet & The Just Society, Jan. 19, 2021, https://www.internetjustsociety.org/legal-issues-of-deepfakes.

Sample, Ian. “What are Deepfakes – And How Can You Spot Them?”, The Guardian, Jan 13, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/13/what-are-deepfakes-and-how-can-you-spot-them.

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