the next deepfake porn clip to go viral may just be starring you…

While pundits worry about the effect of deepfakes on global politics, trolls are using the technology to make fake porn of people they hate. And the victims rarely have any recourse…
virtual robot striptease

One of the strangest episodes of my life was during a party at a friend’s house. A person who I barely recognized pointed to me announced to all those within earshot that I deserved a special drink because I was actually a secret porn star, and therefore, awesome. No amount of laughter, questioning, or denials could convince the unwanted drunken admirer that the closest my life ever came to the adult entertainment industry was using the same video editing tools they did to compress promotional videos for websites I was designing at the time. Eventually, I allowed him to officially toast me for the exploits existing only in his mind just to drop the subject and move on with the night.

But imagine what could’ve happened if in response to my befuddlement, he whipped out his phone and quickly found a pornographic clip starring me. The face of the performer would look exactly like mine and the body would be similar enough to be passable, seemingly irrefutable evidence which would’ve certainly got a lot of people talking and upturned my life as the rumor and link spread. And today, this scenario is a reality for countless women (and some men) who found themselves on the wrong side of an argument involving an angry troll. They may have never taken their clothes off in front of a camera, but that doesn’t matter. Enough pictures on social media is all that deepfake technology needs to create such clips.

While this sounds shocking and alarming, we need to remember that the world was introduced to deepfakes, a system of artificial neural networks that compete with each other to manipulate images until they look realistic enough to the human eye at first glance, through a social media community that wanted to use it to turn their favorite models and celebrities into porn stars for their own enjoyment. Leaving aside the more than questionable ethics in play here, we could say that celebrities more or less expect this to happen and have a small army of publicists and lawyers on call to counter the impact of deepfake videos and pictures. Random people on the internet, however? Not so much.

what can you do if you’re the target of deepfake porn?

Upsetting? Wait, it gets worse. While anodyne headshots and video clips are enough to put a victim in a salacious scene, the networks also need explicit images with which to splice faces and other distinguishing features. For those, they use actual pornography and those catalogs can and do include revenge and coerced porn from the bowels of the web. In the end, women may be getting double, if not triple exploited for the sake of embarrassing someone else into silence often simply because it’s possible. Usually this would be the part where I also explain what happens with male revenge porn and explicit deepfakes, but this phenomenon is so gendered, men account for fewer than 5% of all victims.

Just to add a poison cherry on the excrement sundae, there’s very little victims can do when deepfake porn of them surfaces. They could lobby porn sites to take videos down, which sites are free to ignore. They could threaten legal action after paying a hefty retainer to a lawyer, but this process could still take a year or more of escalating threats and harsh letters going back and forth. If the case ever gets to court, the perpetrators, if they’re even discovered, can claim that they were framed by a hacker or say that since the images were fake, they’re a protected expression of free speech unlike revenge porn. And the content could still turn up on the dark web or shady sites that start the whole mess over again.

All right, you may say, why not just ban the technology altogether? We couldn’t if we tried since we’d have to ban all artificial intelligence. Remember that deepfakes are just ways of training a set of mathematical architectures we also use for countless important applications that range from banking to robotics to defense. Even if we were to forsake AI from a legal standpoint, we can’t just un-invent things so deepfakes will be around unless society forgets about them. On top of that, despite their use for evil, they do have more than legitimate uses in special effects, scientific research, and education, aiding in reconstruction of artifacts and extinct animals, and in reducing the manual effort of making modern sci-fi movies and TV shows.

why laws against deepfake porn are so hard to write

What if we were to approach it from another angle? Why not make it illegal to post anything pronographic without signed and explicit consent from all those involved, and forging those documents or hosting adult content without them would be severely punished with huge fines and jail time? It sounds workable at first glance, but it also creates a database of personal info perfect for identity thieves and blackmailers. It would be a high value target with questionable security. On top of that, it would reveal real identities of people creating erotic content for fun or much needed income, and preferring to do so pseudonomously to avoid the wrath of moralistic busybodies happy to shame and blacklist them from other gainful work.

It may sound like my conclusion is that we should all get used to the idea that we’re going to have deepfake nudes leaked all over the internet so we either shouldn’t care or get ahead of embarrassing fabrications and start posting our own flattering nudes on OnlyFans, but that’s really not the answer either. Our society and culture simply isn’t ready for that level of sexual openness and leniency, and even if it was, the trolls would likely respond by synthesizing ever more shocking and graphic content. Unfortunately, there really don’t seem to be any obvious answers to all these problems, and to be perfectly honest, a lot of lawmakers and influential figures who could help come up with a solution don’t want to deal with it.

In short, as much as it pains me to say this, there’s no magic bullet and this nasty problem fell into our laps while we are woefully unprepared. The internet was conceived by academics who saw it as a place to share knowledge and have informed debates to come to an understanding, and we liked their vision so much that the laws governing it enshrined the right to post anything short of criminal with virtually no recourse or consequences. And while this has led to plenty of good things, it also created a world where one deranged person with a grudge could ruin the lives of a dozen people across the world for years on end. Ignoring the dark side of humanity run amuck on the web because it’s such a complicated task is simply no longer a choice.

# tech // deepfakes / law / pornography


  Show Comments