Imagine that just as voters are receiving their ballots in the mail, a video of a local candidate, caught in a compromising situation, surfaces on popular social media sites. Is it real…or a deepfake? According to The Guardian, “The 21st century’s answer to Photoshopping, deepfakes use a form of artificial intelligence called deep learning to make images of fake events, hence the name deepfake.” The use of deepfakes can harm businesses, candidates, and government leaders by further eroding a declining trust in the media.
The false narrative created by deepfake videos makes it impossible for a viewer to distinguish real life events from synthetic events. This emerging technology allows bad actors to create videos, photographs, and audio feed that is compelling but exceedingly difficult to authenticate without the use of sophisticated detection software.
How realistic are deep fakes? Check out the TikTok account @ deepfaketomcruise to see deepfake videos of Tom Cruise that are eerily convincing. Except that’s not Tom Cruise we are watching, nor is it his voice. That is what makes this technology so scary.
Deepfake technology uses facial scans and dubbed audio to create a realistic fake video from an authentic video. And today, fake videos can deceive anyone. But for candidates, government officials, and members of the public, being duped can have grave consequences.
Here in Washington state, Senators Frockt, Dhingra, LIias and Stanford, at the request of the Secretary of State, introduced SB 5817 earlier this year. This act would restrict the use of synthetic media in campaigns for elective office.
Synthetic media is defined as an image, audio, or video recording that has been intentionally manipulated to appear to be a real individual’s actions or speech, but that did not actually occur. Further, synthetic media would cause a reasonable person to have a fundamentally different understanding or impression of the individual than they would have had from viewing the unaltered original version of the content.
SB 5817 would require a disclosure, with exceptions, when synthetic media is used in electioneering communications. It would also create a cause of action (a set of facts sufficient to justify suing,) for candidates whose voices or likenesses appear in synthetic media that is distributed without the required disclosure. To get around the niggling First Amendment, the bill requires the following disclosure: “This image/video/audio has been manipulated.”
Distributing synthetic media without this disclosure, would allow a candidate who is represented in a deepfake to seek injunctive relief or other equitable relief to prohibit the distribution of such media.
The disclosure exceptions mentioned above do not apply to radio or television stations that are airing synthetic media as part of a bona fide broadcast, news interview, documentary, or on-the-spot news coverage of events. That said, the broadcast must acknowledge there are questions about the authenticity of the synthetic media.
Nor does it apply to internet websites or other periodicals of general circulation that routinely carry news and commentary of general interest. SB 5817 requires those publications to state that the synthetic media does not accurately represent speech or conduct of the candidate, or that it constitutes satire or parody.
The federal government is concerned about synthetic media as well. In December, 2019, as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2020, former President Trump signed the first federal legislation related to deepfakes. The measure received broad bipartisan support. The law requires a comprehensive report on the foreign weaponization of deepfakes; and requires the government to notify Congress of foreign deepfake disinformation activities targeting U.S. elections. It also established a “Deepfakes Prize” to encourage research and commercialization of deepfake detection technologies.
In late May of this year, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, issued a report to accompany S.2559, the establishment of a Deepfake Task Force Act. The report asserts:
“As the software underpinning these technologies becomes easier to acquire and use, the dissemination of deepfake content across trusted media platforms has the potential to undermine national security and erode public trust in our democracy, among other nefarious impacts.”
The Congressional Research Service points out that “state adversaries or politically motivated individuals could release falsified videos of elected officials or other public figures making incendiary comments or behaving inappropriately.” Such videos could “erode public trust, negatively affect public discourse, or even sway an election.”
Deepfake examples have caused concern internationally as well. In June of this year, several mayors of European capitals were lured to participate in video calls with a deepfake of Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. Fifteen minutes into the call, Berlin Mayor Franziska Giffey was told by the Klitschko imposter that Ukrainian refugees were cheating the Germans out of state benefits; and he asked for the return of Ukrainian refugees for military service. Giffey became suspicious and when the call was interrupted, her staff contacted the Ukrainian Ambassador’s office, who confirmed that Giffey was not talking to the real Klitschko.
But the ruse did not stop with Giffey. The mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, also issued a public statement that he had spoken with Klitschko in a video call. Shortly afterward, the statement was retracted, and his staff announced that Ludwig was the unfortunate victim of a cybercrime.
Jose Luis Martinez-Almeida, the mayor of Madrid, reported a similar experience. His office filed a complaint with the police about someone impersonating Klitschko in a video call.
Several European mayors and one bad actor. Fortunately, most of them quickly understood they were not talking to the real mayor of Kyiv. But it could have been three heads of state. And the stakes could have been much higher. So, what can we do to protect world leaders and public officials from being deceived by deepfake actors? What does this mean for the divisiveness in the U.S., or even the average Washingtonian?
Lamentably, it means we no longer have the “luxury” of believing what we see and hear.
Sources linked below..