There’s a POV video of Tom Holland giving a blowjob on the Internet. There’s also one of Henry Cavill shooting a load all over his muscled, hairy pecs. Sadly, these aren’t actually your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and Clark Kent getting freaky. They’re just digital forms of video manipulation using the latest machine learning techniques. Welcome to the very strange (and sometimes admittedly sexy) world of deep fakes.
Several weeks ago, two events happened that brought the debate around deep fakes back into the mainstream. The first was a strikingly accurate deep fake TikTok of Tom Cruise played by one of his impersonators. The second was website MyHeritage releasing a new tool called Deep Nostalgia, which allows users to upload and digitally animate old pictures of loved ones with a full range of live facial expressions. Although both are themselves harmless (even if a little creepy), they inevitably sounded off dystopian alarms of worst case scenarios. Among them included the possibility of the technology to be used for both child and revenge pornography. To be clear, these are two very real and dangerous possibilities, and they represent examples of the law being incapable of keeping up with new technologies; although revenge porn is banned in 46 states in the U.S., only 2 states include deep fakes.
But for the time being, there exists a legal gray area where technology and porn enthusiasts are gleefully playing and bending the rules. Cue celebrity deep fake porn.
Take for example the website Mr. DeepFakes which allows users to upload their own deep fake porn, albeit under strict rules including no child pornography, bestiality, or “content that depicts celebrities in a negative manner – for example rape scenes, abuse, humiliation.” Users are not allowed to try and pass off deep fakes as the real thing. Throughout the entire website, viewers are constantly reminded that nothing here is real. Everything has been digitally manipulated. And to be honest, most of the deep fakes here are not that good. Creating them takes a high level of technical skill and an expertise in machine learning that is just too hard to come by. However, many of them are just good enough to get the imagination going, which probably explains the website’s success.
Viewers know nothing here is real, and they are quite fine with that. Their imaginations are given permission to beat it out to their celebrity crush. Nonetheless, there’s still the legal conundrum. None of the celebrities mimicked on the website gave permission for their images to be used like this. But also, there’s no law saying that permission is needed to manipulate publicly available images (we do this all the time, not just in porn). Whether sites like Mr. Deepfakes will still be legal in the years to come is hard to tell. Deep fake technologies are getting better by the year and eventually there’s likely to be an event that changes how we are able to consume it.
All I can do in the meantime is hope that Henry Cavill and Tom Holland finally team up for the real Marvel/DC crossover that we’ve all been really waiting for.