We have all had that ‘wow’ moment when something we thought possible only in the imagination of sci-fi writers suddenly exists at our fingertips! Just when we think we have seen everything technology has to offer, something new comes along.

You may have seen some comedy gold, where celebrities, friends or relatives have had their faces manipulated to sing, dance, or even tell jokes. When deepfakes are used here, they are unlikely to cause serious harm.

These moments can stop us in our tracks and make us wonder whatever next. At the INEQE Safeguarding Group, we think the next big thing could very well be deepfakes. The big question is should you be worried?

This article brings you the latest research on deepfakes and explains how they can be misused. Read all the way to the bottom to find out how you can protect the children in your care as this technology evolves.

What are Deepfakes?

A deepfake is an image, video, sound, voice, or GIF which has been manipulated by a computer to superimpose someone’s face, body or voice.

A focus on the Facts

  • In 2019, AI company Sensity warned that 96% of deepfakes they surveyed online were non-consensual ‘pornographic’ materials

  • They registered that 124 million deepfake ‘pornographic’ videos were available on the top four deepfake pornography websites
  • Last year Sensity also warned that automated bots were being used to ‘strip’ the clothes from publicly available photos found on social media. 104,852 women were targeted

  • 70% of targets were private individuals whose photos had been harvested from social media

  • The Law Commission is currently reviewing legislation into image-based abuse which includes the sharing of ‘alerted images’ including deepfakes

The Harmful Side of Deepfakes

There are already several ways deepfakes are being misused to cause distress and harm. As this technology evolves and becomes more accessible to users, it is important to understand how it can be misused.

Bullying

Deepfakes have been used in cases of cyberbullying to deliberately mock, taunt or inflict public embarrassment on victims. The novel appearance of these images may distract from the real issue that they can be used to bully or harass children and young people.

Extortion and Exploitation

Deepfakes can be used to create incriminating, embarrassing or suggestive material. Some deepfakes are so good that it becomes difficult to distinguish between them and the real thing. Convincing other people that an embarrassing or abusive image is fake can create additional layers of vulnerability and distress. These images can then be used to extort money or additional ‘real’ images.

Image-Based Sexual Abuse

There have been cases where images of children have been harvested and used to generate sexualised deepfakes. The realistic depiction of a victim engaging in a sex act can damage a child’s wellbeing and mental health. We know that deepfake software can be used to remove clothing from victims digitally, and in some cases, there are commercial services where users can pay to have images professionally manipulated.

It is important that parents, carers, and safeguarding professionals are aware of the risks of this form of (non-contact) sexual abuse. In some cases, victims themselves may be unaware that their images have been harvested and misused to create deepfakes.

While many young people may be aware of and understand how images can be manipulated in this way, others may not. It is important to speak to them about the issue of deepfakes and how they can be misused.

Our Advice

  • LEARN – The best way to help protect children from deepfakes is to educate yourself about this phenomenon. Share this article with other parents and safeguarding professionals.

  • TALK – Talk to the children in your care about image consent and deepfakes – check that they know about why they should ask someone before they use an image of them to create a deepfake or funny image.

  • CHECK – Check that all the devices your children own or have access to have the best safety settings enabled. Speak to the children in your care about their safety and privacy settings online, you should also check that they limit public access to their social media images.

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