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US House Intelligence chief presses social media firms on deepfake policies

Image credit: Vchalup | Dreamstime.com

US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee chairman, Adam Schiff, has pressed major social media companies on how they plan to handle the threat of deepfake images and videos published on their platforms lining up to the 2020 elections.

The Democrat congressman wrote letters to the chief executives of Facebook, Twitter and Google questioning the respective companies’ formal policies on deepfakes and their research into technologies to detect this type of content.

Deepfakes use machine learning to manipulate source material and create hyper-realistic content where a person, such as a political candidate in this case, could appear to say or do something they did not.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone confirmed the company had received the letter and said it would respond to Schiff accordingly.

Twitter on the other hand did not comment on the letter but pointed to a statement last month by Nick Pickles, its global senior strategist for public policy, that said Twitter’s rules “clearly prohibit coordinated account manipulation, malicious automation, and fake accounts.”

Alphabet Inc’s Google also declined to comment on the letter written by Schiff.

In the run up to previous elections, major social media platforms have been used to spread disinformation on candidates and results.

US intelligence agencies have said there was an extensive Russian cyber-influence operation during the 2016 presidential election aimed at helping Republican President Donald Trump get elected. Russia has repeatedly denied these allegations.

“As we look ahead to the 2020 election, I am gravely concerned the experience of 2016 may have just been the prologue,” Schiff wrote in the letters.

“Social media platforms can catapult a compelling lie into the conversations of millions of users around the world before the truth has a chance to catch up.”

There has not been a well-crafted deepfake video with major political consequences in the US as of yet. However, the potential for doctored videos to spread misinformation was recently highlighted by a manually altered viral clip of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi which was slowed down to make her speech seem slurred.

Schiff’s letters also asked the California-based social media companies about their responses to this ‘cheapfake’. YouTube took down the video, citing policy violations, however Facebook left it up, only limiting its distribution and adding fact-checking warnings.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said last month that posting false information was not against the site’s rules but acknowledged that it did not respond quickly enough to the Pelosi video. He also said Facebook is considering developing a specific policy on deepfakes.

The company recently opted to mark as false but leave up a deepfake of Zuckerberg posted to Facebook-owned Instagram by British artists.

Instagram head Adam Mosseri said last month that his platform does not currently have a policy around deepfakes.

The name deepfake – a combination of 'deep learning' and 'fake' – derives from a Reddit user who published AI software for creating fake porn videos.

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