LOS ANGELES — There has been a lot of buzz lately about the topic of “deepfakes,” leading industry insiders to contemplate these increasingly popular photos and videos and their role as the catalyst for what could potentially be porn’s new content craze.
For those unfamiliar with the term, deepfakes are the result of replacing one person’s image with that of another, either in whole or in part (both puns intended), using powerful software tools that have become widely available as apps and add-ons. Inspired by Snapchat’s fun facial filters, a new generation of face-swapping tools innocently intended to enhance a user’s social media posts has been turned to a new purpose — by replacing porn performer’s faces with those of celebrities and common folks alike.
One such case to make recent headlines involved Gal Gadot, following her role as “Wonder Woman,” with other notable victims including Daisy Ridley, Scarlett Johansson and Taylor Swift, all now featured in the unwanted role of “porn star.”
Lest one think this is a difficult process only employed by a handful of techno-nerds, more than 100,000 copies of the face-swapping apps have been downloaded, and even Microsoft is in on the deal with its Face Swap app that pulls backgrounds from Bing Image Search, for even more copyright complexities.
For its part, PornHub and other industry leaders, as well as mainstream media powerhouses including Reddit and Twitter, have banned deepfakes, choking channels that may have provided this material — but despite all of the recent hub-bub, there is nothing really new about “fake” images used for porn.
Examples of this range from a century-plus-long history of bogus “celeb” content featuring the photo headshots of celebrities literally cut out and pasted (with a glue stick or trusty bottle of Elmer’s) onto the porn pics of the day — fast-forwarded to today’s digitally conceived cousins — where a quick snip and presto-change-o, your particular fantasy is only a mouse click or two away.
Indeed, the ease with which digital images are manipulated has led to everything from “fan tributes” to the expansion of fake celeb porn to include co-workers and colleagues, friends, former lovers, and the hot girl next door — all have a home in the conflux of carnality and creativity — and with so many folks posting photos to social media, especially “suggestive” images, there is plenty of fodder to go around.
Therein lies the problem with fake porn, deep or otherwise: a lack of consent. And in the porn business, consent is everything.
The creepiness that underpins involuntary porn is only exceeded by its more criminal applications — such as the abhorrent use of digital image manipulation to create pseudo-CP, where underage bodies and/or faces are combined with adult images to produce legally-passable, but still “wrong,” renditions.
The Association of Sites Advocating Child Protection (ASACP) has taken an active role in the squelching of such activities on the commercial front, but as is the case with so much involuntary porn, the difficult target is the individual fan and admirer, the “user” in “user-generated content (UGC),” who is also the producer of this material.
Another “wrong” application that has made numerous legal headlines, is so-called “revenge porn,” which while voluntarily created, typically as part of sex play with a former lover, was later released to the public by that lover — often as an act of revenge by the now jilted party.
The unauthorized release of explicit fare, from “shared” selfies to “stolen” (read purposely leaked for promotional purposes) celebrity sex tapes, to even encompass embarrassing emails, texts, and social media “PMs,” is always problematic for those folks whose once-thought-secret actions are revealed to all and sundry in the harsh light of day — but those problems stem from a matter of being accountable for your past actions — rather than solely being the victim of someone else’s current actions…
Deepfake tech, on the other hand, allows an angry ex to create revenge porn when no original porn of the couple was ever recorded.
For my part, this author believes the next front in The War on Porn will be fought over the notion of involuntary porn, which will combine Hollywood-backed initiatives against deepfakes, along with legal moves against revenge porn, and the ongoing crusade on pseudo-CP, with a playbook line that reads something like “We were successful in combatting ‘human trafficking,’ so perverts are now turning to digital manipulation for their porn addiction fix.”
Against this onslaught, technology will march on as the denials come forward, while the media-savvy recall comedian Chico Marx reciting his famous line from the movie “Duck Soup,” “Who ya gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
An AI Connection
Where deepfakes differ from their copy-and-paste parentage is in their photorealism, where a higher level of believability is attained. It is through the increasingly commonplace application of the newest artificial intelligence (AI) technology that this is happening today — but this is not the first time AI and adult entertainment collided.
From advanced customer billing solutions to targeted traffic acquisition, funneling and much more, forward-leaning adult sites have been leveraging AI for better business performance, while furthering the narrative that “porn leads the way in technological innovation.”
Indeed, AI has empowered several efforts using facial recognition technology as a bridge between the fan’s “dream girl” (as revealed by a user-uploaded photo), and an available live cam performer that is “online now” — or a known porn star whose library is available “here.”
This raises the tangential question of whether or not mere “lookalikes” are necessarily “fakes” meant to represent another specific person; where “close enough” is not the same as “an imposter.”
It’s one thing for a marketer to think that Sally looks enough like Suzy to fraudulently represent that “Suzy Stardom in a Four-Way Suckathon!” appears on a website in hopes of gaining a few extra clicks — and an entirely different thing to digitally replace Sally’s face with Suzy’s for some added punch.
Mark my words: the same folks pushing the fallacy of “porn as a public health crisis” and calling major companies to task for their support of freedom of choice for consumers will pester those mainstream firms to put “safety measures” in place that would prohibit the modification or saving of nude images — such as an AI-driven popup alerting Photoshop users that their naughty image is verboten.
This isn’t a matter of government censorship, but of corporate policy making — a much smaller hurdle to clear for anyone interested in restricting the desires of others — and a potentially easy score when you have formidable talking points, such as “to prevent involuntary porn” and “to protect the children.”
Finally, there is an additional political angle to all this: deepfakes don’t simply target pornographic possibilities, but politics as well — with U.S. President Donald Trump being constantly victimized by this new technology and providing fuel for endeavors such as Face Swap Online’s “Trump Challenge,” which offers “random Trump-related compositions … pitted against one other so you can compare posts in a simple competition,” with users clicking either image to cast their vote and progress to the next pair of bogus Trump pics.
Is this competition between artificially produced images a legitimate form of political dissent, not unlike cartoon caricatures of politicians that have long been legally protected?
This brings the discussion full-circle, because if politicians, as public figures, do not enjoy the same legal protections to privacy and use of image as do private persons, then how can celebrities — public figures, often most widely known by the public under a fictitious “stage name” — claim to be harmed by similar satirical depictions, whether those depictions are sexually oriented or not?
I will leave that for the lawyers to debate.
The one reality you can believe in today’s counterfeit world of forced fantasy, where fake pictures and fake purses, fake news, fake boobs, elongated eyelashes and everything in between, are commonplace, is that those wearing fake smiles will tell you that “pretending” is not for porn pictures — while fandom- and profit-driven producers will continue their sham sexuality unabated.
In conclusion, are deepfakes porn’s newest content genre?
No — they are only the newest incarnation of one of its oldest — but a genre that should find no foothold among legitimate websites, simply due to the involuntary participation of those thus depicted.
But have no fear if you are a fan of deepfakes, as there is an entire sub-culture of fake proponents that will not be dissuaded by any criticisms, and are cocking a fist in the name of free speech, and free porn, ensuring a flow of this mock masturbatory material for some time to come.