What can we do as a society?

Content Moderation: Social media companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit have taken steps to ban maliciously manipulated media (such as deepfakes) from their platforms and build detection algorithms to locate, flag, and remove it when it appears.

Policy: Legislation has the potential to hold platforms accountable for the media that live on their platforms and, more specifically, to make the distribution of deepfakes illegal. In late 2019, California became the first state to take formal action against deepfakes in the context of political elections. Bill AB 730 makes it a crime to distribute “with actual malice materially deceptive audio or visual media of the candidate with the intent to injure the candidate’s reputation or to deceive a voter into voting for or against the candidate, unless the media includes a disclosure stating that the media has been manipulated.” The law applies to candidates within 60 days of an election. Maryland, Virginia, and Texas have since signed laws related to deepfakes.

At the federal level, the National Defense Authorization Act ensures: the sustained reporting on the international weaponization of deepfakes, the notification of congress about foreign deepfakes targeting U.S. elections, and research into deepfake detection. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and especially the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could also more actively reinterpret their role in reducing the threat of deepfakes with regards to protecting citizens-as-consumers, voters, and viewers.

Media in the public interest: New subscription and advertising models as well as innovative engagement strategies can certainly help credible news outlets gain a more solid foothold in the media landscape. Still, imaginative thinking is necessary in order to reinvigorate media making in the public interest and alleviate pressures created by market forces. Some initiatives include: newspapers and media outlets re-situating themselves as nonprofits; devoting substantially greater funds and subsidies towards public media; adopting antitrust measures to breakup or prevent media monopolies; and, forcing big telecommunications companies to pay a public service tax on earnings that would go towards localized media production with a civic mandate.

References Sam Gregory, Witness Media Lab, “Backgrounder: Deepfakes in 2021.” Jason Chipman, Matthew Ferraro, Stephen Preston, “First Federal Legislation on Deepfakes Signed Into Law,” JD Supra, December 24, 2019; AB 730, 10/4/2019. Victor Pickard, Democracy Without Journalism? Confronting the Misinformation Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020), 136-76. Background theme image from Shutterstock.

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