By Madison Latiolas | January 2021

What is a Deepfake?

A deepfake is a human video-audio manipulation that is based on artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is trained to detect specific speech patterns in a person and that data is used to make that person say words which they didn’t actually say in real life.

What do they look like?

Deepfakes come in all different shapes and sizes. A deepfake could simply be audio that was generated by an AI and not the person who it is mimicking. It could also be manipulated video footage where faceswap and audio generated by AI are used together.

How have they been used?

The most popular use for deepfakes has been for entertainment. As technology advances though, there is a concern that deepfakes will become more difficult to detect and that they will be used to interfere with elections.

How can you detect a deepfake?

Unfortunately, there is currently no public detection software for deepfakes. Professors at UC Berkeley are currently working on improving deepfake detection technology. Learn more about advances in deepfake detection.

What's being done?

Fighting deepfakes is difficult because instead of there simply being a story to disprove, what most people consider evidence must be disproven. Normally, photos and videos are what is used to prove or disprove a story, but in this case, the photo, video or audio is what has to be disproven. Lawmakers are beginning to realize that this could pose a threat to democracy. Politically, malicious deepfakes and fake stories can be banned, but to what extent is what politicians are trying to determine. Socially, it is up to everyday citizens to be aware of the existence of deepfakes and educate themselves on signs of manipulated audio and video. While the world works to prevent deepfakes from spreading and causing chaos, tech companies like Adobe are developing deepfake detection technology that the average citizen can use. See more about Adobe’s collaborative work with UC Berkeley here.

Transformation Matrix

Photo: Yuezun Li and Siwei Lyu, "Exposing DeepFake Videos By Detecting Face Warping Artifacts." New York State University at Albany. 1 Nov. 2018.

This graphic shows the process used when creating a deepfake. The facial movement and major features are detected and put into a transformation matrix. The face shape is then refined and replaces the original.

Gaussian Blur

Photo: Yuezun Li and Siwei Lyu, "Exposing DeepFake Videos By Detecting Face Warping Artifacts." New York State University at Albany. 1 Nov. 2018.

This diagram displays how Gaussian blur, a result of deepfake facial alignment, occurs.  Photo A is the original and photo B is the process of facial alignment. Photos C and D show the altered photo with Gaussian blur.  Gaussian blur is a tell-tale sign of an altered photo or video.

Christmas Message Delivered by Deepfake Queen



Deepfakes in the 2020 Presidential Election

President Trump and his allies boosted conspiracy theories about the vote tallying in the 2020 election in an attempt to stop the count. Eric Trump tweeted a video from a far-right QAnon conspiracy theory account that purported to show someone burning ballots cast for Donald Trump. This misleading video was removed by Twitter, as the materials shown were sample ballots, not legitimate ballots in favor of the president.

Trump's allies also boosted a deepfake video that was edited to make it appear as if Joe Biden was admitting to voter fraud. This video was shared by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a newly elected Republican member of Congress and a QAnon supporter. This video was manipulated to exclude key context, as the original video showed Biden addressing efforts to prevent voter fraud. The video was shared by Eric Trump, a Fox News anchor, and posted on Donald Trump's YouTube page.

This "cheapfake," or a low-tech manipulated video, aims to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the presidential election. Social media companies flagged the post as misleading and attempted to restrict the spread of the video. 

Why didn't deepfakes rear their head more in the 2020 election? Read Wired's feature on the deepfake threat in 2020.

For more information about Deepfakes, visit our Deepfake Resources page.

Dilbert Deepfake Comic