21/11/2018 08:00 GMT | Updated 21/11/2018 10:56 GMT

What Is Deepfake Pornography And Is It Illegal In The UK?

It has been used to target celebrities including Emma Watson and Daisy Ridley.

Politicians have revealed that the government is now running to keep up with all ways in which technology is allowing unprecedented sexual harassment online, from cyberflashing to revenge porn and ‘deepfake’ pornography. 

Cyberflashing (unsolicited dick pics sent via AirDrop or other social media) and revenge pornography (posting sexual images or videos of another person on the internet without consent) are easy to do for anyone with a smartphone and internet access, but deepfake is a slightly more complicated technology.

So what exactly is deepfake and what are the government doing about it? 

[READ MORE: I Was The Victim Of A Deepfake Porn Plot Intended To Silence Me]

What Is Deepfake Pornography?

Deepfake is a practice which uses smart face-swap technology to digitally manipulate pornography so it looks like other people are present in images or film. 

Using photographs of celebrities and everyday people, a victim’s face is put into an existing pornographic photograph or film, replacing the original participant.

It began with many female celebrities including Taylor Swift, Emma Watson, Gal Gadot, Michelle Obama, Daisy Ridley, Meghan Markle and Kate Middleton.

But as the software becomes more accessible, it is happening to everyday people too.

Where Has It Come From?

Doctoring sexually explicit images is nothing new, but previously was a painstaking process that involved technical know-how. Not only did it take time and commitment, but the end result was unlikely to look convincing. 

Since 2017 new software has been making it easier: all you need to do is gather a photoset of one particular person (easy when celebs post selfies on Instagram on a daily basis), choose a porn film, and input both into the automated AI-system.

It can take a long time to achieve (longer than 24 hours even for a short clip) but open-source software has made it accessible to the masses. One commonly-used programme has been downloaded more than 100,000 times, according to its designer.

To get an idea of the pace at which this technology is developing, at the beginning of 2018, Motherboard predicted it would take another year to automate deepfake software. It took only a month.

Is Deepfake Pornography Illegal?

Currently producers of deepfake material in the UK can be prosecuted for harassment as was the case in May 2018 when 25-year-old Davide Buccheri was jailed for 16 weeks and ordered to pay £5000 in compensation for photoshopping pictures of a female intern to porn websites.

But there are now calls to make deepfake a specific crime of its own. In October, the Women and Equalities Committee called on the government to implement a law against image-based abuse that stops the non-consensual creation and distribution of sexual images. This would cover deepfake porn.

What Is Being Done About Deepfake

While we wait for the law to change, websites and social media giants are taking a stance on their own platforms.

PornHub, for example, has banned deepfake videos this year – although critics have said it isn’t working. Twitter and GIF-hosting site Gfycat have also placed similar bans.

Reddit also closed down the primary subreddit hosting deepfake porn, which had 90,000 users at the time, a move deemed largely ineffective as users migrate the material to other locations.