House ethics committee warns lawmakers against posting deepfakes


The House Ethics Committee is advising lawmakers against posting manipulated videos and photos on their social media accounts, warning they could face repercussions for tweets and Facebook posts that “mislead the public.”

The warning shot from the Ethics Committee, which is tasked with monitoring members’ conduct in the House, comes amid rising panic over so-called deepfakes, or footage that has been manipulated by artificial intelligence.

“Deepfake” videos can depict people saying and doing things that they never did, a high-stakes prospect as the U.S. enters a contentious election year. 

“Members, officers, and employees posting deep fakes or other audio-visual distortions intended to mislead the public may be in violation of the Code of Official Conduct,” the Tuesday memo from the Ethics Committee reads. 

The committee declined to respond to The Hill’s inquiries about whether the letter is a response to any particular incident. 

The memo’s warnings do not only apply to deepfakes, a nascent technology that necessitates a significant amount of expertise to produce. It also warns lawmakers against intentionally posting “audio-visual distortions,” which could sweep up misleadingly altered images or video footage that has been altered in any way. 

“Prior to disseminating any image, video, or audio file by electronic means, including social media, Members and staff are expected to take reasonable efforts to consider whether such representations are deep fakes or are intentionally distorted to mislead the public,” the memo reads. 

Earlier this month, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) drew criticism when he tweeted a misleadingly edited image depicting former President Obama meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, an encounter that never happened.

The original photo depicted Obama meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh; the version Gosar tweeted had clearly been altered.

“Members have a duty, and a First Amendment right, to contribute to the public discourse, including through parody and satire,” the memo reads. “However, manipulation of images and videos that are intended to mislead the public can harm that discourse and reflect discreditably on the House.” 

A spokesperson for Gosar’s office confirmed they have not been notified that the memo was related to the congressman.

“Congressman Gosar is committed to representing Arizona with the highest standards of ethical conduct,” the spokesperson said. “Our office will continue to uphold all standards, guidelines, and applicable rules.”

The issue of manipulated footage has been top-of-mind for Congress since a deceptively edited video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) went viral across the top social media platforms. The video of Pelosi, which was slowed down and edited to make it appear as though she was drunkenly slurring her words, sparked new conversations around how much responsibility the social media platforms should take over the “deepfake” issue.

Earlier this month, Pelosi accused Facebook of acting as an “accomplice … for misleading the American people” by allowing videos like the one of her that was manipulated.

Updated at 4:51 p.m.

Tags 2020 election Barack Obama Deepfakes Ethics Committee Nancy Pelosi Paul Gosar

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