Why we should take the threat of deepfakes more seriously
One thing about humans is that we're experts at finding new ways of exploitation. This has been a common theme throughout history, and the modern era is no different. One of the newest forms of exploitation is also the one most people are or potentially will be vulnerable to – deepfake pornography.
So, what is a deepfake? It can be defined as a convincingly altered and manipulated image or recording used to misrepresent someone engaged in an act that they did not actually do in real life. The fact that this technology exists is already scary, but when you realise that this can be used in the creation of non-consensual pornography with the help of AI, it should set off alarms everywhere. And this is exactly what's been happening.
Recently on Twitch, a livestreaming website used predominantly for gaming, a streamer was caught live browsing a deepfake website, which had videos of his own female colleagues and friends. To add insult to injury, it was a paid website, so people were going out of their way to spend money to watch these videos. Many of the women who were on these websites didn't even know about it, and the virality of this story is what brought it to their attention. And unfortunately, it probably brought it to the attention of many others, who went to seek it out over the internet, without a care in the world about the fact that it is non-consensual.
In light of this event, several victims of deepfake pornography have recently come out and addressed the situation, with many expressing how dehumanising and violating of an experience it is. Most of them were never involved in any form of sex work and pleaded their audiences to not go and seek out these videos. However, the reaction to them being rightfully upset and calling out this practise has unfortunately not been met with unanimous support. Many people have been openly dismissive, claiming that these things come with the territory of being an internet personality. Others have accused the victims of being over-dramatic, arguing that the videos are not real, therefore they shouldn't affect them.
However, none of this comes with the territory of being an internet personality. What comes with the territory is what you have willingly signed up for, and none of these women signed up to have their likeness be used to create such videos. What kind of a world do we live in if reaching a certain level of fame means we relinquish our bodies to the public to be used and abused in every way? What does it say about us if we allow this abuse to continue with impunity? And when will we move past this culture of victim blaming, where victims are constantly dismissed and even vilified by accusations of attention-seeking?
If this recent story about deepfake pornography has shown us anything, it's how ill-prepared we are to deal with online sexual exploitation that technological advancement is bringing. Not only are we not taking victims seriously, but there is also a glaring absence of proper legislation to protect us, our faces, and our bodies in the cyber sphere.
In today's day and age, all our likenesses are on the internet, perhaps forever, meaning all of us are potentially at risk. Therefore, it's about time we give this issue the attention it deserves, and ensure proper measures are in place to protect us from exploitation, while at the same time maintaining empathy for those who have been exploited.
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