Dossier 2: Deepfakes


Deepfake is a form of synthetic media in which a person in an existing video is replaced with someone else’s face or voice using artificial intelligence. The number of deepfakes has almost doubled over 2019 and continues to grow exponentially. It has become an internet phenomenon that we can no longer ignore. With Snapchat and TikTok embracing deepfake technology in their filters, and online forums brimming with deepfake creators, tools, and tips, it has become extremely accessible for almost anyone to make videos that push the boundaries of ‘truth’ and ‘reality’.

When you google ‘deepfakes’, among the first hits are articles with titles like: “When seeing is no longer believing” and “Are deepfakes a threat to democracy or just a bit of fun?”. Deepfake technology is seen as the perfect way to spread fake news and disinformation, and almost every article emphasises the danger of it. A Republican senator even called the technology a digital translation of nuclear weapons. With the US elections ahead, some Big Tech companies (Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon and Google) have decided to join forces to find a way to detect deepfakes. But why is there so much attention being put on the abilities of deepfakes to destabilise our democracies? So far there have only been two prominent cases where deepfakes shook up the political sphere—in Gabon with an alleged government cover-up linked to president Ali Bongo and in Malaysia with a smear campaign against a high-profile politician. These cases highlight that just the awareness of deepfakes has the potential to destabilise political systems—causing us to question the objectivity of videos of public figures.

A report about the current state of deepfakes, drawn up by the startup Deeptrace, taught us that 96% of all existing deepfake videos are actually porn. And these videos only feature women—many of them celebrities. So even though our newsfeeds are inundated with fears about deepfakes and the impact they’ll have on politics, when we’re talking about deepfakes, we’re actually talking about porn. Because this side of the world of deepfakes is still relatively unexposed, we decided to take porn as a starting point for our online dossier. Margarita Osipian looks at the entangled history of porn and technology as an entry point into what the future of deepfake technology could look like. Lilian Stolk gives a feminist perspective on this phenomenon, asking how deepfake porn influences the position of women. We’ve invited deepfake artist Lenka Hamosova to reflect on the creative potential of deepfakes. Via our list of must read articles and podcasts you’ll learn everything you need to know about deepfakes. And check out our favourite deepfake videos and even train your eyes to detect one.