How deepfakes are undermining our democracy

The Pope in a white puffer jacket might still be funny, but manipulated images pose a real danger. This became evident when the former Mayor of Berlin was deceived by a fake video call from the Mayor of Kyiv.

Deepfakes are video, image or audio files that have been manipulated using artificial intelligence. New methods are making these forgeries increasingly realistic.However, many deepfakes can be uncovered on the basis of certain criteria, such as:

  • unnatural facial expressions or blurred features
  •  an empty gaze or lack of blinking
  • incorrect shadows
  • changes in skin tone and
  • discrepancies between audio and mouth movements.

Often, these nuances are only visible on a high-resolution screen. However, most people don’t examine videos that closely. And even if the fakes are uncovered, doubts persist, and rumours circulate.

Filme zum Thema Deepfakes

Learn more about Deepfakes

Deepfake porn being used to intimidate women

From bikini shots to hardcore pornography, deepfakes are predominantly being used to create sexually explicit content without consent, and ninety per cent of victims are women. So far, the targets have generally been well-known personalities: politicians, actors and journalists. However, it is becoming increasingly easy for even non-experts to create deepfakes using face swap apps. This poses the risk that anyone might involuntarily end up in a deepfake.

Manipulated recordings, real consequences

Deepfakes have severe consequences for victims: psychological distress, trauma and social exclusion in both family and work settings. Once deepfakes have been widely circulated, it is very difficult to remove them. In some cases, victims are still searching for and requesting the deletion of such images years later.

A threat to democracy

The aim of these deepfakes is to humiliate and silence victims, which has implications for society as a whole. For instance, when female political candidates are defamed through sexualised manipulations, it can discourage women from engaging in politics. They must carefully consider whether they want to expose themselves and their families to this risk – and, in the worst case, will refrain from engaging in politics altogether. In this way, the strategy of those who use deepfakes as a political tool proves successful, giving them free rein to spread disinformation and misogyny. This poses a threat to our democracy.

Stopping manipulations, strengthening democracy

Finding your face involuntarily featured in a porn flick: in order to eliminate the fear of that happening, the federal government must enact effective laws. The non-profit organisation HateAid is raising awareness of the dangers of deepfakes at this year's Human Rights Film Festival and calling on politicians and online platforms to take action to protect human rights on the internet.

HRFFB meets the Bundestag: together with experts from HateAid we are inviting you to attend a political film screening of ‘My Blonde GF’. The aim is to raise awareness among members of the German Federal Parliament and call for protection against unwanted sexualised deepfakes.

From headlines to hate speech – a workshop for journalists and filmmakers on dealing with digital violence  

How do I protect myself from online hate? What support services are available? How can I develop skills to withstand public backlash? These and other questions concerning digital violence will be answered in collaboration with the participants. The workshop will focus on finding specific strategies to help journalists and film-makers recognise, prevent and counteract digital violence.

30. SEPTEMBER 2023