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Deepfakes Perpetuating Disinformation in America

By Ruhi Kumar

In the report Deepfake, Cheapfake: The Internet’s Next Earthquake? DeepTrust Alliance describes the ‘portending serious consequences’ deepfakes have for society by highlighting the social, political and emotional toll deepfakes place on individuals, corporations and governments. As the issue of deepfakes permeates many aspects of society, legislators and policymakers have long struggled to come up with appropriate solutions and safeguards. Id.

Given the vast scope of this issue, it is pertinent that stakeholders adopt a collaborative and holistic solution be adopted to curb the use of deepfakes, only then will the deepfake misinformation be addressed in a meaningful way. To ensure long-term success in curbing deepfake misinformation a combination of technological tools and processes, legislative policy and consumer education campaigns should be adopted.

Deepfakes are a “potential new frontier of disinformation warfare” and misinformation that requires prompt policy action. Tom Dobber & Nadia Metoui, Do (Microtargeted) Deepfakes Have Real Effects on Political Attitudes?, 26 The Int’l J. of Press/Pol. 71 (2020).  This has been particularly evident in political elections, since to an untrained eye, a deepfake may be difficult to distinguish from a legitimate video. For instance, in the 2020 Indian elections, the Delhi BJP partnered with a political communications firm to create campaigns utilizing deepfakes to sway a large Haryanvi-speaking migrant worker population in Delhi from voting for the rival political party. These deepfakes were distributed across 5,800 WhatsApp groups in Delhi and reached approximately 15 million people. Id. Circumstances like this and many others prompt questions about the “legitimacy of democratic elections, the quality of public debate and the power of citizens”. Dobber & Metoui.

As such, in order to remedy the potential corrosive impact deepfakes could have on an already fragile political landscape governments should adopt legislation that aims to curb potential misinformation and ensure the safety of their citizens. Several states in the United States such as California and Texas have passed laws that criminalize the publishing and distributing of a deepfake videos that intend to influence the outcome of an election. While the enactment of these laws is a step in the right direction, it does little to create long term change given the vast and cross boarder nature of online platforms. Even with this newly enacted state legislation, victims continue to encounter hurdles in identifying the exact location of the deepfake creator.

Additionally, in many cases the creator of the deepfake may be located outside of the state’s jurisdiction making the legislation inapplicable, leaving consumers susceptible to misinformation and victims lacking adequate redress. In order to tackle this issue, legislators should adopt a federal approach which would allow for a more cohesive handling of deepfake cases and facilitate more impactful remedies for victims.

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