The Brief: Technology that allows for the widespread creation of fabricated videos of people has some comic applications as well as significant risks.


What Are Deepfakes?

Deepfakes are realistic-looking videos that aren’t what they seem. Typically they use face swap technology to make it look like a person is saying or doing something when in reality, it is a mashup between their face and someone else’s body.

These videos are more sophisticated and intricate than mere photoshopped stills. The word “deep” is a reference to deep learning AI algorithms, which are becoming increasingly precise and user-friendly. These algorithms, which are sometimes called “FakeApps,” can be found on open-sources websites. Individuals with some programming knowledge can then use these tools to edit videos.

With the rise in popularity and accessibility of deepfakes, come ethical and social implications. These include issues with consent and in recognizing the difference between real videos and doctored ones.

Deepfakes In Comedy

Deepfake technology allows comedians to take impersonation to another level. It is also popular in the making of comical videos and memes. Remixes of classic films and video clips with Nicolas Cage’s likeness added to every character are a popular manifestation of this meme. These videos are usually less about making a realistic deepfake and more about making an absurd one, like the Steve Buscemi Jennifer Lawrence hybrid pictured above.

Deepfakes In News & Politics

A particularly concerning issue is the potential for deepfakes to pass as news, spreading fake news that appears to be backed up by video evidence. Edited deepfake videos show politicians saying outlandish things exemplify this point. Jordan Peele and Buzzfeed made a PSA in which Barack Obama appears to warn viewers that “we’re entering an era in which our enemies can make it look like anyone is saying anything at any point in time.” After making a few remarks uncharacteristic of the former president, comedian Jordan Peele reveals that it’s actually him voicing Obama’s words, and controlling his facial expressions through FakeApp software.

Another risk with deepfakes is that they make it easier to doubt any video’s authenticity and brush it off as a fake, even when it holds important factual evidence.

Issues With Pornography

One popular usage of deepfake technology is the editing of pornography so that it appears to feature a famous actress or celebrity. While sites like Reddit have made significant efforts to ban this content, it still exists online. These videos violates the privacy and consent of both the actor from the original video and the person added to it. They could also be used as blackmail.

How To Spot A Deepfake

Many deepfakes can be identified with a well-trained eye. The most reliable way to avoid falling for a deepfake is to source information from reputable and verified websites. Crosschecking with multiple sources can also be a way to sniff out deceptive videos. Paying close attention to people’s mouths, checking for digitally warped features, and slowing down video speeds can also help reveal when they have been altered.

As deepfake technology and usage continues to change, its full effects are unclear. This technology has the potential to be powerful, blurring the lines between truth and fabrications.