Confronting Deep Fakes and Other Forms of Deception

How can truth prevail in an information environment flooded with deception, including now deep fakes? The reporter in this video segment suggests (1) check the source and (2) Google it. This parallels what I see as the two most essential skills citizens need for navigating today’s incredibly complex information environment. First, they need to be aware of trustworthy and untrustworthy sources and take steps to fill their personal information environment with the former and not the latter. Second, when they encounter an unfamiliar source, they need to know trustworthy sites that evaluate the trustworthiness of sources, like fact-checking sites, Ad Fontes Media, and MediaBiasFactCheck.com. (They also know about the significant shortcomings of sites such as Allsides.com). I don’t think “Googling it” is sufficient, however. It is unknown whether Google’s basic search algorithm adequately filters out fraudulent political information. We know for certain that Google’s YouTube algorithms do not.

Empowering citizens with these skills is essential for protecting the commons from deceptive and fraudulent political communications. An article in Fulcrum points to an additional protection: laws prohibiting the publishing of deep fake videos during an election campaign without disclosing that they are fake:

Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed legislation that prohibits distribution of these artificially created or manipulated videos within 60 days of an election unless the video carries a statement disclosing it has been altered. Texas enacted a similar law late last month.

That the nation’s most populous state, where lawmaking power is entirely in Democrats’ hands, would mirror a new policy in the third-largest state, formulated entirely by Republicans, is a clear indicator that the new world of deepfakes is causing big-time bipartisan worry among politicians. “

While I do not have an opinion at this point about the best regulatory solutions, it seems that both reforms are needed: a radical improvement in citizen political information literacy skills and a new legal framework governing the distribution of political information.