California made it illegal to create or distribute “deepfakes” in a move meant to protect voters from misinformation but may be difficult to enforce.
California’s governor, Gavin Newsom, on Thursday signed legislation that makes it illegal to create or distribute videos, images, or audio of politicians doctored to resemble real footage within 60 days of an election.
Deepfakes are videos manipulated by artificial intelligence to overlay images of celebrity faces on others’ bodies, and are meant to make viewers think they are real. Concern around them grew after a video of US House speaker Nancy Pelosi, doctored to make it appear she was drunk and her speech was slurred, went viral in early 2019.
Major social media sites struggled to rein in the misinformation campaign, and Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg admitted in June the company’s systems were too slow in detecting and removing the false video.
California assemblymember Marc Berman said he introduced AB 730 ahead of the 2020 election amid growing concerns over how such false content can sway voters.
“Deepfakes are a powerful and dangerous new technology that can be weaponized to sow misinformation and discord among an already hyper-partisan electorate,” Berman said in a statement. “Deepfakes distort the truth, making it extremely challenging to distinguish real events and actions from fiction and fantasy.”
But the new deepfakes law will face a number of roadblocks, said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at Hubbard School of Journalism and Mass Communication, as political speech enjoys more protections in print and online than in broadcast. Because of free speech protections, it may be easier to challenge deepfake videos through copyright claims than through the new laws, she said.
“Political speech enjoys the highest level of protection under US law,” she said. “The desire to protect people from deceptive content in the run-up to an election is very strong and very understandable, but I am skeptical about whether they are going to be able to enforce this law.”