The Deepfake Dilemma: From Digital Exploitation to Legislative Action

Sara Spinks 9 May 2024 1 min read
The Deepfake Dilemma: From Digital Exploitation to Legislative Action feature image

In an age where reality can be digitally sculpted at the click of a button, the rise of deepfakes poses a profound challenge to our perception of truth. From seamlessly swapping faces in videos to fabricating entire events, deepfake technology has blurred the line between fact and fiction, leaving society grappling with the consequences.

Now, in a significant move aimed at protecting individuals from digital exploitation, the HM government has announced plans to criminalise the creation of sexually explicit deepfake images. This groundbreaking legislation, set to be implemented in England and Wales, marks a crucial step in combating the proliferation of deepfake technology, which has increasingly been used to manipulate and exploit individuals, particularly women.

Under the proposed law, individuals found guilty of producing explicit deepfake images of adults without their consent will face severe penalties, including a criminal record and potentially unlimited fines. Moreover, if these images are subsequently shared, offenders could be subject to imprisonment. The Ministry of Justice has clarified that the legislation will apply irrespective of whether the creator intended to distribute the images, emphasising the gravity of the offence.

Deepfake technology, fuelled by advancements in artificial intelligence, allows for manipulating images or videos to substitute one person's likeness with another's. While initially employed for entertainment purposes, such as inserting celebrities into comedic sketches, the misuse of deepfakes has become a growing concern. In particular, there has been a disturbing trend of using deepfake technology to superimpose the faces of individuals, often women, onto pornographic material without their consent.

A prominent Channel 4 News presenter, Cathy Newman, shared her experience of discovering her likeness used in a deepfake video, describing it as "incredibly invasive." Reflecting on her ordeal, Newman highlighted the challenges in identifying and holding perpetrators accountable in the face of a global issue.

The legislation is part of a broader effort to address online safety concerns and protect individuals from digital exploitation. It builds upon existing laws, including provisions introduced in the Online Safety Act, which criminalised the sharing of deepfake intimate images. By specifically targeting the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes, the proposed new law aims to close loopholes and provide stronger legal recourse for victims.

Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris highlighted the government's commitment to combatting deepfake exploitation, labelling it as "immoral" and "despicable." She emphasised the potentially catastrophic consequences of sharing such material and affirmed the government's determination to stamp out this form of digital abuse.

In addition to criminalising the creation of sexually explicit deepfakes, HM Government has outlined a broader strategy to protect women and girls from online abuse. This includes measures to tackle image-based abuse, reforms in domestic homicide sentencing, and initiatives to equip law enforcement with the necessary tools to address evolving threats.

As technology evolves, this proactive stance against deepfake exploitation sends a clear message: digital manipulation for malicious purposes will not be tolerated. By prioritising the safety and dignity of individuals, the UK is taking decisive steps to confront the dark side of technological innovation and uphold fundamental rights in the digital age.

Sara Spinks

SSS Author & Former Headteacher

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