In 2018, Sam Cole, a reporter at Motherboard, discovered a new and disturbing corner of the internet. A Reddit user by the name of “deepfakes” was posting nonconsensual fake porn videos using an AI algorithm to swap celebrities’ faces into real porn. Cole sounded the alarm on the phenomenon, right as the technology was about to explode. A year later, deepfake porn had spread far beyond Reddit, with easily accessible apps that could “strip” clothes off any woman photographed.

Since then deepfakes have had a bad rap, and rightly so. The vast majority of them are still used for fake pornography. A female investigative journalist was severely harassed and temporarily silenced by such activity, and more recently, a female poet and novelist was frightened and shamed. There’s also the risk that political deepfakes will generate convincing fake news that could wreak havoc in unstable political environments.

But as the algorithms for manipulating and synthesizing media have grown more powerful, they’ve also given rise to positive applications—as well as some that are humorous or mundane. Here is a roundup of some of our favorites in a rough chronological order, and why we think they’re a sign of what’s to come.

Whistleblower shielding

Left: a photo grid of Maxim shot at many angles. Right: a photo grid of his deepfake cover shot at many angles.

In June, Welcome to Chechyna, an investigative film about the persecution of LGBTQ individuals in the Russian republic,became the first documentary to use deepfakes to protect its subjects’ identities. The activists fighting the persecution, who served as the main characters of the story, lived in hiding to avoid being tortured or killed. After exploring many methods to conceal their identities, director David France settled on giving them deepfake “covers.” He asked other LGBTQ activists from around the world to lend their faces, which were then grafted onto the faces of the people in his film. The technique allowed France to preserve the integrity of his subjects’ facial expressions and thus their pain, fear, and humanity. In total the film shielded 23 individuals, pioneering a new

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By: Karen Hao
Title: The year deepfakes went mainstream
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Published Date: Thu, 24 Dec 2020 11:00:00 +0000

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