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Deep fakes: The emerging technology that could interfere with our elections


From the glow of our screens we are constantly consuming media–whether it’s seeing photos from a childhood friend, scrolling through news headlines or watching videos from practically anyone from anywhere in the world. Cell phones, tablets and laptops are at the epicenter of how we receive information. There’s no denying it, we’re fully immersed in the digital age.

As an elected official I’ve had a front-row seat in seeing how technology is advancing, specifically through my work on the Multicultural Media Caucus, which I founded with a couple of my fellow colleagues several years ago. From this Caucus my eyes were opened to how artificial and augmented intelligence is used to target vulnerable populations, like Black women and for revenge porn. In learning about this technology, I also learned about a very concerning emerging technology when used to deceive others called “deep fakes.”

Deep fake videos, simply put, are manipulated videos that are so covertly altered using artificial intelligence that it’s indiscernible that these videos have been changed from their original form. To make matters scarier, this growing and emerging technology can be applied in a whole host of ways which can be devastating to our American democracy.

As videos come across our screens, Americans deserve to know when a video has been altered. It’s why I introduced the Defending Each and Every Person from False Appearances by Keeping Exploitation Subject to Accountability (DEEPFAKES) Act (H.R. 3230) earlier this month, the first legislation of its kind in the House of Representatives.

This legislation will require intentionally deceptive content-creators to label videos with a digital watermark and a written disclaimer informing its viewers that the content has been manipulated. And when these content-creators do not abide, we will, for the first time in our history, have a legal course of action against these very content-creators while also giving people who have been portrayed in deep fake videos a legal course of action.

Additionally, this legislation will update identity-theft statutes for the 21st century, so when people use deep fakes to impersonate others, this virtual impersonation will now also be recognized as illegal. It’s a step in the right direction to stand up for our democracy while drawing public attention on the fact that we will not accept unmarked, maliciously-intended deep fake videos. Period.

We are a mere 17 months away from the election and already we’ve seen videos altered to portray elected officials in a negative light. You probably recall hearing about a recent video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) which was doctored to make her appear intoxicated. The technology used to manipulate the video was not truly a deep fake, but more of a “shallow fake” with the goal to fool viewers. And fool its viewers it did. The video got millions of views, but without an obvious warning that it had been altered, we can only speculate how many people believed that representation of Mrs. Pelosi to be true.

My legislation will provide Americans the transparency they deserve, so when we go to the voting booth at this upcoming and future elections, all Americans will have this transparency about the videos that populate their feeds. It will also create a task force at the Department of Homeland Security that will intensify our efforts to detect deep fake technology, which can then be shared with technology companies and social media giants to help in our fight against this disinformation.

In order to maintain the security and the virtue of this country, we must be one step ahead of corrupt influencers. The DEEPFAKES Accountability Act aims to protect our democracy and the American people from the coercive and vindictive content that can easily be mistaken for the truth.

This isn’t a partisan issue–it affects both Republicans and Democrats. We must form our opinions based on facts. Not propaganda. Deceptive deep fakes have no place in our democracy.

We must preserve authenticity, transparency and reliability. If voters are deceived by outside forces, then our elections lose their legitimacy. Who are we to trust? How do we know if our votes are worth casting? And how are we to discern when foreign actors purposely inflict these fears upon us through intimidation tactics? I will continue to act as a leader in educating my peers and the public about deceptive deep fakes and what we must do to ward against their threat to our democracy.

Clarke represents the 9th District of New York.

Tags Deepfake videos Nancy Pelosi

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