WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Marco Rubio (R-FL), member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, have expressed concern over the growing threat posed by deepfakes – sophisticated audio and video technologies that allow users to create fake audio and/or video files that falsely depict someone saying or doing something. In letters to 11 social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, Sens. Warner and Rubio urged the platforms to develop industry standards for sharing, removing, archiving, and confronting the sharing of synthetic content as soon as possible, in light of foreign threats to the upcoming U.S. election. The letters also encouraged the platforms to develop clear policies to ensure their platforms are not exploited to spread disinformation or misinformation, including through authenticating media, labeling and archiving synthetic media content, and providing access to qualified outside researchers.
“As concerning as deepfakes and other multimedia manipulation techniques are for the subjects whose actions are falsely portrayed, deepfakes pose an especially grave threat to the public’s trust in the information it consumes; particularly images, and video and audio recordings posted online,” wrote the Senators. “If the public can no longer trust recorded events or images, it will have a corrosive impact on our democracy.”
“Despite numerous conversations, meetings, and public testimony acknowledging your responsibilities to the public, there has been limited progress in creating industry-wide standards on the pressing issue of deepfakes and synthetic media,” they continued. “Having a clear strategy and policy in place for authenticating media, and slowing the pace at which disinformation spreads, can help blunt some of these risks. Similarly, establishing clear policies for the labeling and archiving of synthetic media can aid digital media literacy efforts and assist researchers in tracking disinformation campaigns, particularly from foreign entities and governments seeking to undermine our democracy.”
Deepfake technologies allow users to superimpose existing images and videos onto unrelated images or videos, essentially giving users the ability to create false and defamatory content that can be easily spread on social media.
In their letters to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, Imgur, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitch, the Senators emphasized that more than two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media sites, and stressed that online media platforms must assume a heightened responsibility for safeguarding public confidence. They also posed the following series of questions about each company’s ability to prevent, detect, and address deepfakes and other synthetic media:
- What is your company’s current policy regarding whether users can post intentionally misleading, synthetic or fabricated media?
- Does your company currently have the technical ability to detect intentionally misleading or fabricated media, such as deepfakes? If so, how do you archive this problematic content for better re-identification in the future?
- Will your company make available archived fabricated media to qualified outside researchers working to develop new methods of tracking and identifying such content? If so, what partnerships does your company currently have in place? Will your company maintain a separate, publicly accessible archive for this content?
- If the victim of a possible deepfake informs you that a recording is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will your company adjudicate those claims or notify other potential victims?
- If your company determines that a media file hosted by your company is intentionally misleading or fabricated, how will you make clear to users that you have either removed or replaced that problematic content?
- Given that deepfakes may attract views that could drive algorithmic promotion, how will your company and its algorithms respond to, and downplay, deepfakes posted on your platform?
- What is your company’s policy for dealing with the posting and promotion of media content that is wholly fabricated, such as untrue articles posing as real news, in an effort to mislead the public?