“Deepfakes:” How Technology Unevenly Victimizes Women

I had never heard of “deepfakes” before even though articles by Drew Harwell, Emma Grey Ellis, and Samantha Cole were all published in 2018. To be honest, I was appalled. Although technology has been trending toward the personally invasive for years, “deepfakes” seem like a new low; this is not social media intruding on and potentially changing your political ideologies, nor even is it government surveillance monitoring the records of our personal devices. This is identity theft in the most crude sense; a person with some cheap technology can take pictures of you from the internet and make a believable video of you doing… anything. It is manipulative, immoral, and destructive.

As the articles and video mention, there is seems to be a few ways this technology can be manipulated. Firstly, it has been used by films to recreate deceased actors so they can appear in sequels or franchises. Although trivial, this seems like the technology’s only positive use. Secondly, it has the potential to be used to create videos of fake news as a method of persuasion; videos of politicians can be altered to perpetuate political polarization, further false political ideologies, and even potentially sway elections. The main use of this technology currently, however, is its use to create fake porn. This porn in its most harmless form (if you could call it harmless) manipulates images of celebrities to create realistic videos of famous women. In these cases the videos are not created as a way to intentionally harm its victims, rather its intention is to appeal to users on porn sites and is often an obvious (but cruel) joke. In its most evil form, it is being used as revenge porn: a way to degrade and harass women who have supposedly possessed as a threat to the internet.

The negative effects of such actions are catastrophic. Not only do these videos have the potential to cause extremely emotional distress on the victims, but it can ruin their entire lives, causing them to loose their jobs and potentially their families. In Drew Harwell’s article, an unnamed victim says that she felt “nauseated, mortified” and “violated–this icky kind of violation.” No woman should have to feel this kind of humiliation, this kind of vulnerability, especially at the expensive of a joke made by a male on the internet. More terrifying than the potential power of these new evolving technologies are the evil intentions of men that are being exposed through these large numbers of “deepfake” porn videos emerging on the dark web.

My main question is this: why are women the main victims of this harassment? To me, the situation makes me feel hopeless. I have always felt as though our era has been one of progressive woman’s rights; although we are still not where we should be, it seemed as though we had come along way, especially with the exposure of the #MeToo movement of 2017. These videos make me feel as though it was all in vain: we are still vulnerable. In the darkness of anonymity, women’s bodies are still to target of brutal harassment. And until United States law can help defend these targeted women against “deepfake” porn, women remain powerless victims in the hands of the internet. As Scarlett Johansson said in Harwell’s article “the fact is that trying to protect yourself from the Internet and its depravity is basically a lost cause. . . . The Internet is a vast wormhole of darkness that eats itself.”

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2 Comments

  1. Jaidyn Eardley

    I can understand your feeling of helplessness. Similar feelings ran through my mind as I read the articles. There’s nothing anyone can legally do about deepfake porn (yet), the internet is so expansive that anyone could be a target of something like this, and the technology itself isn’t going to become less available anytime soon. Reading about issues like this always leaves me feeling uncomfortable, because part of me expects authors to explain both a problem and a potential solution. However, as was brought up in class, the discomfort that comes from this tough topic is worth the knowledge that stuff like this exists.

  2. I think that the fact women are targeted reflects the patriarchal society we live in. Who is this deepfake porn for? Why do men find it acceptable, permissible, allowable to use someone else’s face to humiliate them? Why is it humiliating for women, but a fun joke for men? You mention the progressive movement for women that has happened over the century, but this also goes to show just how sexist our ideas and morals still are.

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