January 30, 2020

[Above, a deepfake video showing "Arnold Schwarzenegger" instead of Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry.]

Faced with a dishonest Republican scoring racist political "points" about Barack Obama using a manipulated image:

The warning comes three weeks after Rep. Paul Gosar tweeted a doctored photo of President Barack Obama shaking hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In a caption, he wrote that "The world is a better place without these guys in power."

The original, unaltered photo featured Obama and now-former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2011. In the doctored image tweeted by the Arizona Republican, Singh is replaced by Rouhani, who remains in power. Obama and Rouhani never met in person.

It wasn't the first time a member of Congress had shared a misleading image, or even the first time that particular fake photo had circulated. A political action committee used the same picture in a 2015 television ad supporting Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.

The House Ethics Committee is responding by cracking down early on deepfakes, releasing a memo (PDF) to members this week:

Members have a duty, and a First Amendment right, to contribute to the public discourse, including through parody and satire. However, manipulation of images and videos that are intended to mislead the public can harm that discourse and reflect discreditably on the House. Moreover, Members or their staff posting deep fakes “could erode public trust, affect public discourse, or sway an election.”

Accordingly, Members, officers, and employees posting deep fakes or other audio-visual distortions intended to mislead the public may be in violation of the Code of Official Conduct. Prior to disseminating any image, video, or audio file by electronic means, including social media, Members and staff are expected to take reasonable efforts to
consider whether such representations are deep fakes or are intentionally distorted to mislead the public.

The Committee has long held that Members are responsible for the actions of their staff. Further, Members must take reasonable steps to ensure that any outside organization over which the Member exercises control—including a campaign entity—operates in compliance with applicable law. Accordingly, Members should ensure their official and campaign staff are familiar with the rules and regulations regarding electronic communications that those staff are
involved in preparing or disseminating.

Governing Magazine reports that the Maine legislature is considering a bill outlawing deepfake technology in political advertising.

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