Deep Fakes and the Spread of Disinformation

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

The use of deep fake videos to spread disinformation will likely grow as the technology becomes more readily available and easier to use. At the same time, legal protections or recourse to combat or deter use at this time are limited. Hostile actors, foreign governments or persons, political opponents, or simply mischievous individuals could see deep fakes as a cheap and easy means to gain military or political advantage or incite public anger. For example, the timely release of a deep fake video could alter an election outcome, trigger civil unrest, alert the public to nonexistent disease outbreaks, or cause a military confrontation.

  • An estimated 300 minutes of video are published to YouTube every 60 seconds and opportunities to create deep fakes through publicly accessible platforms are increasing. As machine learning—the artificial intelligence technology used to create deep fakes—becomes more advanced, the ability to manipulate images for disinformation purposes expands.

  • In May 2018, a Belgian political party released a deep fake video of President Donald Trump urging Belgium to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. The political party assumed it would be obvious that the poor-quality video was a fake. However, given the hundreds of comments on social media platforms, it was clear that many people thought the video was real.

Deep fake video technology (source: CNN)

  • Creating and disseminating deep fake videos is not inherently illegal. Moreover, the difficulty in identifying video creators leaves limited legal options to deter the use of deep fakes for disinformation. A cursory review of laws nationwide reveals no criminal statutes that directly address deep fake use for disinformation. Civil options do exist; however, these claims are tough to prove unless you can identify the deep fake creator.

  • Several bills have been introduced in Congress to combat the spread of disinformation using deep fake technology. However, as of August 2019, none have been signed into law. In December 2018, a senator introduced a bill to criminalize the creation and distribution of fake electronic media—including deep fakes—that appear realistic, but no further action has been taken on the bill since its introduction. In 2019, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill, The Deepfake Report Act, which would require the Secretary of Homeland Security to publish an annual report on the use of deep fake technology. A companion version was introduced in the House.

This is the NTIC’s second product in a series focused on deep fakes at the UNCLASSIFIED level. The first product provided an overview of deep fake technology. Be on the lookout for future products including capabilities to detect deep fakes.

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