Social Media Allows Deepfake Videos from RepresentUs, TV Networks Pass

When a deepfake video of Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un ran on social media last week, they gave eerie messages that America doesn’t need any election interference, since it can ruin its democracy by itself. Fox, CNN and MSNBC pulled the ads set for the Washington, D.C. markets at the last minute without explanation. Facebook has a policy of banning any deepfake videos and refused to run the ads, too.

At the end of the videos, the nonpartisan voting rights advocacy group RepresentUs made it clear that they were fake videos with the tagline: “The footage is not real, but the threat is.”

MIT’s Technology Review used a statement from RepresentUs on why they used the controversial AI-generated videos:

“The goal is to shock Americans into understanding the fragility of democracy as well as provoke them to take various actions, including checking their voter registration and volunteering for the polls. It flips the script on the typical narrative of political deepfakes, which experts often worry could be abused to confuse voters and disrupt elections.” interviewed Joshua Lynn, RepresentUS’s co-founder and president, about using the controversial technology. He said President Trump’s attacks on mail-in voting and his efforts to encourage state and county officials to close physical polling places, particularly in areas expected to vote heavily in favor of Democrats, motivated the ad campaign.

“I see what is happening right now as the ultimate expression of this degradation of the system as it was designed,” Lynn said.

The story explains how the New York ad agency, Mischief@NoFixedAddress, decided to create the videos and the process it used to do so. It was far more difficult than running an algorithm. Not only did they need to hire actors with similar body types to mouth the script and act for the algorithm training video, they also had to find enough video footage of the two foreign leaders for training. Then they hired native Russian and Korean speakers to voice their lines.

“The two deepfake videos have been a hit on social media, with celebrities, including comedian Amy Schumer, musical artist Sia, and director Adam McKay, helping to promote RepresentUS’s #savethevote campaign on social media. RepresentUS’s website recorded its two highest days of traffic ever after the videos debuted. called the videos “chilling” and questioned the ethics of using them.

“Still, the advertisements raise a thorny question for TV and social networks. Are deepfakes okay if they have warning labels? What if they identify themselves as fake, but only in some small print at the very end of the video?”