Understand: How deepfakes affect state, national laws and the impact they have on candidates

Deepfakes could pose threat to elections, state senator says

As elections draw near, a Texas lawmaker is taking the lead in the fight against deepfake videos

SAN ANTONIO – As elections draw near, a Texas lawmaker is taking the lead in the fight against deepfake videos.

State Sen. Bryan Hughes said deepfakes could pose a threat to elections.

“These fake videos are so real looking and so deceptive, that it was obvious to us that they could be used for real damage in the election area,” Hughes said.

Hughes is behind Senate Bill 751, which went into effect in September. The bill says if you create a deepfake video and publish or distribute within 30 days of an election, you are committing a criminal offense.

“If you send it out and it's not real close to the election, then there's time for folks to do some research, for folks to figure out that this is false. But if we're within 30 days of the election, people are about to be voting on whom they're going to choose for office, whether it’s mayor or president or county commissioner. If you are within 30 days of an election, you could mislead a lot of people,” Hughes said.

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KSAT asked the senator if the bill is violating the First Amendment.

“If there is time for discussion and debate and research to correct the situation and the harm is not so great, then we don't limit the speech. We only limit free speech in a case like this, where the harm is so great and there's no other way to address it,” Hughes said.

KSAT also asked a St. Mary’s University law professor about how deepfakes impact the First Amendment.

“It can act as a brake on legislation and does because governments — federal, state and local — are not allowed to enact laws which infringe on First Amendment rights. So in the hypothetical, I mentioned where the individual, as a joke, as a parody, as satire, is portraying an incorrect image of an individual. That may be protected by the First Amendment because it was no specific intent to injure or harm that individual or to undermine the election,” said Robert Summers, law professor at St. Mary’s University.

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Summers said although it could be hard to prove the intention of a video or post, deepfakes can be damaging.

“It can be extraordinarily damaging and because of social media platforms, it can be disseminated rapidly, globally, certainly nationally. And those images — once planted in the minds of those who are reading social media, participating in social media, is very difficult to erase,” Summers said.

According to CNN, through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency the Pentagon is trying to get ahead of deepfakes by working with research institutions.

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