A nonpartisan advocacy group, RespresentUS, is using AI-generated deepfake technology to raise awareness about attacks on American democracy, particularly attacks that involve spreading disinformation.
In an ad that was deemed too controversial for television last minute, American’s would have seen Putin and Kim Jon-Un delivering an urgent message about democracy in America: that America will ruin democracy on its own, without foreign interference.
“The video was faked, but the message is real: If our election fails, our democracy will fail,” reads the campaign page.
“For decades, America has been gerrymandered, votes have been suppressed and voters purged, money has taken over our political system and, in 2020, we’re seeing it all come home to roost,” said Johsua Graham Lynn, co-founder and President of RepresentUs. “By featuring two leaders who have a vested interest in the collapse of our democratic system, we are putting the American people face-to-face with just how fragile our democracy really is.”
The message comes at a time when democracy in America feels increasingly under threat. Influential tech companies, including Google and Facebook, are attempting to put as many measures as possible in place to stop voting misinformation from spreading and make sure people go out and vote. The biggest fear is that Trump is going to delegitimize the results, most of which will come in through mail-in voting due to the pandemic.
RepresentUs says that “lawmakers in swing states report that [Trump’s] campaign is laying the groundwork to have the election decided by the House or Supreme Court instead of the vote count.”
Kim Jon-Un’s video seems to directly reference this, where the deepfake says, “The people are divided, your voting districts are manipulated. Voting locations are closing, so millions can’t vote. It’s not hard for democracy to collapse. All you have to do is nothing.”
It’s pretty creepy, but it comes at a time when disinformation poses a genuine threat to democracy and national security. Nina Schick, author of Deepfakes: The Coming Infocalypse, told the Daily Star, “Some experts who I interviewed for my book said that within five to seven years’ time 90% of video content online is going to be synthetic.”
Deepfakes are videos generated by artificial intelligence machine learning to swap one person’s face and/or voice for another’s. This is deeply worrying if someone who wants to spread disinformation decides to do so by using a prominent public figure – like the President or a foreign dictator – to do it.
This can cause serious mistrust in political leaders (and therefore democracy). Schick told Express Online: “It can be used of course as a tool of political propaganda.
“But the other thing about deep fakes that’s really important to politics is that in a world where anything can be faked, including video of you saying and doing things that you never did, everything can be denied.”
To make the videos, MIT Technology Review reports, RepresentUs worked with the creative agency Mischief at No Fixed Address. Two actors with authentic accents and similar face shape to the two dictators were used to read the script. To create the actual deepfake, they recruited a deepfake artist, “who used an open-source algorithm to swap in Putin’s and Kim’s faces.” The algorithm was then cleaned up to appear more realistic by a post-production crew.
According to MIT Technology Review, the process took 10 days in total; “attempting the equivalent with CGI likely would have taken months [and]…could have been prohibitively expensive.”
Both videos were meant to appear on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC but were pulled last minute. “Given the sensitive nature of using deepfakes in a political context,” MIT Technology Review writes, “it’s possible the networks felt the American public just wasn’t ready.”
“Deepfakes are an entirely new kind of threat to democracy and the integrity of the media. This ad exposes the threat for all to see.” Graham Lynn tells PC Guide. “We hope it inspires Americans to come together to fight for this one issue that unites us all.”