When Technology Becomes Skin Deep: The Dangers of the Deepfake in Universities Worldwide

by Adriana DeNoble

We often associate technology with progress. When it comes to artificial intelligence like the Deepfake, however, power and progress become more accessible to those with the intent to destroy. If you are unfamiliar with what a Deepfake is, it is “a software tool kit that allows anyone to make synthetic videos in which a neural network substitutes one person’s face for another’s, while keeping their expressions consistent,” as defined by The New Yorker. Therefore, in the world we live in, seeing is no longer a precept to believing and video evidence may no longer hold any weight: people are now able to manipulate anyone into looking like they are saying or doing something incriminating.

The most frequent immoral uses of the Deepfake have been putting the faces of celebrities into pornographic videos. Recently, a viral video of Selena Gomez’s face transferred onto a popular adult entertainer’s video has sparked the attention of many. Tech users worldwide are coming to realize that “the faces of celebrities, politicians, children, or pretty much anyone, can be pasted over faces of porn stars in X-rated movies using freely available machine-learning software,” according to Katyanna Quach from The Register. To make this software even more available to the public, a new app called  FakeApp allows anyone remotely familiar with coding to be able to make their very own Deepfake directly from their PC.  

But why is the notion of the Deepfake particularly dangerous to students? The opportunity for intimidation, bullying, and even child pornography is made more convenient in divisive student communities. Students that come to university at the age of seventeen can be manipulated into appearing in X-rated videos, disliked classmates can be expelled due to a fake video of them saying something damaging, and threatening videos of violence can be concocted on someone’s very own laptop while sitting in the university’s library.

These instances are not merely hypothetical. Recently at JCU, Instagram gossip-accounts, one of which is titled “Cabot Confessions,” have surfaced and have caused division in the community. There is a divide between degree-seekers who claim that the accounts are immoral and others saying that they are outlets of innocent fun. However, with technology like the FakeApp, these accounts are neither immoral nor innocent: these Instagram accounts have the potential to end someone’s college career. With access to this app in conjunction with the Instagram photos, videos, and voice-memos of degree-seekers, JCU gossip-accounts become dangerous.

What we must ask ourselves is: what can happen when young adults obtain power over other students’ online identities? The developer of the app, explains how it is only a matter of time before someone abuses it.  “Ultimately, for better or worse, it's impossible to stop anyone from doing what they want with this tool, and unfortunately that means some will abuse it,” they told The Register. “However, I'm optimistic that the community is going to continue to […] use it to make creative, innovative, and positive work, as they have so far.” Perhaps optimism is insufficient for the future of the Fakeapp — for the online identities of young people worldwide. Perhaps students need something more.

Adriana DeNoble