Combatting Deepfake Pornography



March 28, 2024

What has been your worst nightmare? Maybe it was someone or something chasing you. Maybe it was being attacked. Maybe it was a loved one passing away.

Although they aren’t real, these nightmares can be terrifying in the short term. Perhaps they prevent you from going back to sleep or leave you anxious during your morning shower or your commute to work. But thankfully, these nightmares fade away quickly because they weren’t real. They didn’t actually happen.

That’s how nightmares – false imaginations of reality – work.

Unfortunately, we’ve entered an age where nightmares can come true.

Deepfake Pornography

We’ve now entered an era that some are already calling the AI (artificial intelligence) era. This technology, which can be used to create – conversations, music, images, videos, and who knows what will be next – has immense promise to increase productivity and improve lives. But some are using it to create nightmares.

Imagine that someone takes a picture of your face and uses AI technology to create pornographic content. Nude photos. Sexual activity. That pornography might not actually depict your body, but your face is still on it. It may not be you, but it sure looks like you.

And now imagine that the creator publishes these intimate images on a pornography site like PornHub, posts them on a social media site like X (Twitter), or shares those images with your friends (or your enemies). The people that you pass on the street, in the classroom, or even in church look at you a little differently. You wonder why, until some embarrassed friend (or even worse, a gloating enemy) shares the photo or video with you.

You immediately feel engulfed in shame. You want to hide into a hole and never show your face in public again. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness after the fall into sin, but they were only naked in the sight of others. You’ve been exposed to who knows how many people. Tens? Hundreds? Thousands? Millions?

This might be a woman’s worst nightmare. (If you’re a man, think of your mother, your wife or your daughter being at the center of this story). This recently happened to Taylor Swift, where deepfake nude images of her were shared on X (Twitter) and viewed by millions of people before they were taken down. And yet the technology to create and disseminate such images exists now and is becoming cheaper and easier to use.

Governments Step Up

That’s why governments are stepping to combat this deepfake pornography. Last year we covered how British Columbia and Manitoba passed legislation to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, but technology and the nature of pornography continues to change rapidly. In its recent Online Harms Bill, an otherwise terrible piece of legislation when it comes to free speech that contains some positive steps to combat pornography, the federal government intentionally included deepfake materials in its anti-pornography provisions. This is a positive step at the federal level to combat such vile material.

The new Manitoba has also introduced legislation to amend its previous Intimate Image Protection Act to prohibit the sharing of deepfake pornography. In introducing this legislation, the Manitoba Minister of Justice and Attorney General stated, “This bill will expand the definition of intimate image to capture images created or altered by electronic means, and update the title of the act. By expanding the definition, victims who have had computer-generated or altered intimate images distributed without their consent will have access to the civil remedies provided for under the act. These amendments will also act as a deterrent for would-be distributors of electronically altered or created intimate images. While other jurisdictions such as British Columbia, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan have brought forward similar legislation, these amendments to The Intimate Image Protection Act will make Manitoba a leader in protecting and supporting victims.”

This is a laudable step that every province should adopt if they don’t already have legislation on the books to prohibit deepfake pornography. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and PEI already have legislation that not only forbids the sharing of non-consensual intimate images but also includes deepfake images as well. Provincial legislation in Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador has yet to grapple with the possibility of deepfake pornography. Ontario entirely lacks any provincial legislation dealing with the dissemination of non-consensual intimate images.

As the technology that is used to create deepfake materials becomes more widely available (more “democratized”), governments, law enforcement, and women in general will increasingly be playing whack-a-mole, trying to shut down amateur creators in their basements and professional players in the pornography industry who produce deepfake porn. In such an environment, governments will need every tool at their disposal to protect both women and men from the evils of deepfake pornography.

But Government Isn’t Enough

But at the end of the day, deepfake pornography it isn’t the fault of the technology, technology companies, or of governments. Many people are quick to jump up and insist that AI image- and video-generators are evil in and of themselves and should be banned by governments or its development halted by tech companies. But the fault doesn’t lie in the technology nor on its creators nor on its users. It is a problem that stems from evil human hearts.

As technology continues to push the frontiers of what is possible and release human beings from dependence and oversight of others, it will continue to reveal the depravity of the human heart. Six hundred years ago, the human heart was just as corrupt as it was today, but pornography was relatively rare, if only because any sexually explicit content had to be drawn, written, or sculpted by hand. Subsequent communication technologies – the printing press, the telegraph, the still shot camera, the video camera, editing software, and then the internet – made it possible to create pornography more easily and disseminate pornography more widely. They also made the consumption of pornography more private. Once upon a time, people had to purchase a pornographic magazine from a store and suffer the judgement of the store clerk and anyone who saw them enter the building. Now anyone can access pornography anonymously online.

These technologies and these developments did not make human beings any more evil (or any more virtuous). They simply made it easier for people to satisfy the desires of their sinful heart and avoid the authority structures (e.g. parents, teachers, governments) that God has instituted, at least in part, to restrain evil.

Beyond government (and educational and parental) restriction, our society needs cultural transformation to combat pornography. Specific to this point, we need to promote a biblical perspective on human sexuality, the blessedness that it is within the bounds of marriage, and the salaciousness it is outside of this covenant relationship. But beyond that, we need to share the gospel so that not only is the sinfulness of human hearts restrained, but that these sinful hearts may be redeemed and transformed.

For some further ponderings around the impact of AI in the world around us, check out the AI-themed March-April 2024 edition of Reformed Perspective.

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