University at Albany Computer Science Professor Siwei Lyu has created an algorithm to detect altered photos and videos known deepfakes. Here the algorithm screens a fake video of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. (Youtube)
AUSTIN — A candidate for office makes a startling admission in an online video. But is it real?
As fears over potential election meddling grow, Texas has become the first state to ban the spread of manipulative deepfake videos designed to sway the vote or hurt a candidate. Deepfakes use artificial intelligence to alter videos — in a realistic way — to make it appear people said or did things they haven’t.
Their proliferation online is worrying Texas lawmakers, who approved a law this year to ban the spread of politically motivated deepfakes within 30 days of an election.
“Putting any type of limitation on speech is serious, we approached that cautiously,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola. “Because a deepfake video has such power, we realize it could be used for real harm in an election context.”
There’s no example of a deepfake being used to sway an election in the U.S., but states are beginning to crack down on the spread of such videos, said Matthew F. Ferraro, a Washington D.C.-based attorney with WilmerHale LLP who focuses on disinformation. The quality of the fakes are “very high and getting better,” he said.
“The concern is that, imagine if a candidate was portrayed saying something that was deeply damaging, that would harm their reputation before an election,” he said.
The presence of deepfakes online has grown quickly, with one advocacy group counting over 14,000 videos this year. Nearly all of them are pornography, but some are related to politics in foreign countries, according to the recent report by Deeptrace, a cybersecurity company that tracks them.
For subscribers: Detecting ‘deepfake’ videos in the blink of an eye
The Texas law bans the creation and distribution of deepfakes that are meant to injure a candidate or sway an election result within 30 days of an election. Hughes said the language is narrowly tailored to protect free speech and he’s confident the law could withstand a court challenge.
It remains to be seen how the law will be enforced. Hughes said the law is meant to deter people from distributing politically charged deepfakes close to an election. Those who are convicted can face a Class A misdemeanor.
Texas is the first to criminalize deepfakes in an election. But Virginia became the first state to criminalize the spread of deepfakes this year under its law that prohibits revenge porn.