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Face-swap on Leonardo DiCaprio

China announced a ban on fake news, targeting deepfakes in particular.

What happened: The Cyberspace Administration of China issued new rules restricting online audio and video, especially content created using AI. Deepfakes and other such tech, the administration warned, may “disrupt social order and violate people’s interests, creating political risks and bringing a negative impact to national security and social stability.”

What could get you in trouble: The rules take effect January 1, 2020. They target both the creators of fake news and websites that host their content.

  • The rules extend beyond explicitly malicious content. Any videos containing AI-generated characters, objects, or scenes must come with an easy-to-see disclaimer, including relatively benign fakes like those above, created by game developer Allan Xia using the Zao face-swapping app.
  • The new restrictions extend China’s earlier efforts to nip digital fakery in the bud. In 2015, the National People’s Congress passed a law mandating three to seven years in prison for anyone caught spreading fake news.
  • China’s laws also make it easy for the country to track deepfake creators. News and social media platforms operating in the country require users to register with their real names.

Behind the news: Computer-generated media are facing government scrutiny in the U.S. as well. California issued its own law barring doctored audio and video earlier this year. The law, however, does not name deepfakes or any specific technology. It targets only political content released within 60 days of an election, and it sunsets in 2023. U.S. legislators are considering federal restrictions on deepfakes, according to The Verge.

Why it matters: There’s a legitimate fear that deepfakes will be used for political purposes. To date, however, the technology’s biggest victims have been women whose bodies have been visualized without clothes or whose faces have been pasted onto pornographic scenes.

We’re thinking: It’s a good idea for governments to think ahead to potential problems caused by deepfakes in advance of broader calamities. However, efforts to crack down on them may turn into a high-tech game of whack-a-mole as falsified media becomes ever harder to spot.


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