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Gender and the Legality of Deepfakes

Posted on 18 February 2020 by WhoIsHostingThis

If you ran across a photo of Tommy Lee Jones as a neanderthal, cooking food over an open fire, you wouldn't think much about it.

After all, Photoshop and other image editing tools have been available to consumers since the 1990s.

But if you saw Tommy Lee Jones starring in the 1953 cult classic The Neanderthal Man, it might give you pause.

Until recently, altering video footage in such a fashion was considered impossible. However, with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, laypeople can now create such videos. They're called "deepfakes" and they've been described as posing "nightmare" scenarios.

The Advent of Deepfakes

The creators of deepfakes manage to make their subjects say and do things that never happened in real life.

The most common form of deepfakes is to change the face of someone in a video. The most charmingly idiosyncratic manifestation of this has been the internet's focus on putting Nicolas Cage's face on characters in famous movies.

But deepfakes are not always used in such harmless ways.

Fake, yet realistic, videos of former U.S. President Barack Obama and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have been circulating.

This has led to public discussion of how the law should be applied to these creations. Opinions range from the belief that they should be legal, legal with restrictions, or entirely illegal.

Deepfakes in Politics

There has been much concern about how deepfakes may be used in politics. It's one thing to see a comment claiming that a politician believes something they don't; it's quite another to see a video of that person saying something they never did.

This was famously demonstrated by Jordan Peele who used a deepfake of Obama to highlight the dangers.

Governments have noticed the potential problems and are starting to act on them.

Deepfakes in Pornography

A troubling use of deepfakes is in the creation of pornography. Just as Nicolas Cage's face can be put on Amy Adams' face in Man of Steel, any porn actor's face can be replaced with someone else's face  maybe a star's or maybe yours.

According to data presented by CovenantEyes (12.9 MB, PDF), men are over five times more likely to look at pornography as well as being more likely to consume it in video form.

Because of this, the vast majority of pornographic deepfakes have been of women.

This goes along with a study (582 KB, PDF) on revenge porn by the Center for Innovative Public Health Research where most victims are women.

Based on all this, it should not be surprising that women are more negative toward deepfakes than men.

Gender Differences

And that is what the data confirm. A recent American survey found that 89% or respondents believed deepfakes would do more harm than good.

What was most striking in the data, however, was the large gender gap when it came to what they believed should be the legal status of deepfakes created without an individual's consent.

A total of 82 percent of women and only 64 percent of men thought that deepfakes should be totally or mostly illegal. On the other side, 14 percent of men and 7 percent of women thought there should be little or no legal restrictions.

Regardless, it's still the case that the vast majority of men and women agree that nonconsensual deepfakes should be restricted to a large extent.

Toward the Future

We will need to figure out how to manage a world with deepfakes  in terms of the threats we already know of and those that will surprise us. But we have only just begun that process.

WhoIsHostingThis's views do not necessarily represent those of the Chief Censor or of the Classification Office. Keep up with our blog posts by following us on Facebook and Twitter.

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