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The deepfake gender paradox in AI’s moral maze

In the realm of Indian law, tracking deepfakes poses a challenge due to the swift tech evolution, outpacing traditional detection.
Last Updated : 25 November 2023, 23:10 IST
Last Updated : 25 November 2023, 23:10 IST

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In recent years, women have been confronted with the distressing and escalating issue of online sexual harassment, a problem exacerbated by the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies. The emergence of deepfake technology, powered by AI algorithms, has given rise to the creation of convincingly manipulated images and videos that depict real individuals in fictitious scenarios. Regrettably, these manipulative digital creations are frequently weaponised against women, often with grave consequences. According to a notable study, a staggering 96 percent of deepfake videos are characterised by the malicious dissemination of non-consensual pornography. 

In a latest and alarming incident that has sent shockwaves through the entertainment industry, three prominent actresses, Rashmika Mandanna, Katrina Kaif and Kajol found themselves at the centre of deepfake technology. Deepfake videos, which employ sophisticated AI algorithms to manipulate and superimpose an individual’s face onto pre-existing footage, have become a growing concern in the digital age. This disturbing trend took a distressing turn as fabricated videos featuring these actresses surfaced, igniting a furious outcry across various social media platforms.

“In the ever-evolving landscape of deepfake pornography, the targets are not limited to celebrities. There is a growing trend where individuals can have personalised deepfake videos created featuring their chosen subjects. An alarming case on Discord highlights this, with a content creator offering to craft a five-minute deepfake of a “personal girl,” categorising anyone with under 2 million Instagram followers, all for a mere $65, as detailed in NBC’s report. This unsettling development underscores the increasing accessibility and potential consequences of deepfake technology in the digital age,” says Praveen Kumar Tangella, a cyber expert from Hyderabad. 

The rise of personalised deepfake pornography not only raises ethical concerns but also serves as a tool that can be wielded to silence women’s voices. By exploiting advanced technology to manipulate and misuse images, there’s a disturbing potential to undermine and intimidate individuals, particularly women. This form of targeted harassment not only erodes privacy but also contributes to a toxic online environment, perpetuating a culture of fear and silencing women who dread the misuse of their images. It reflects a broader issue of digital abuse and underlines the urgent need for comprehensive measures to address the dark side of technological advancements.

India is most susceptible

The proliferation of online deepfake videos has surged by 550%, reaching a staggering 95,820, as revealed in the 2023 State of Deepfakes report by Home Security Heroes, a United States-based organisation. The report identifies India as the sixth most susceptible country to this emerging threat. “The current cyber legislation in India lacks provisions addressing deepfakes under the IT Act of 2000. To effectively regulate these technologies, amendments are needed to specify penalties for malicious deepfake creation and distribution. Strengthening legal protections for individuals whose images are misused without consent is also crucial,” says Abhishek Narania, a lawyer.

Legal & technological challenges

In the realm of Indian law, tracking deepfakes poses a challenge due to the swift tech evolution, outpacing traditional detection. Legal frameworks lag, grappling with nuanced issues in deepfake creation and distribution. “Law enforcement faces significant challenges in effective monitoring due to resource constraints and the overwhelming volume of digital content,” adds Narania. 
Recognising privacy as a fundamental right, the Personal Data Protection Bill 2019 takes centre stage. This legislation seeks to safeguard personal data by imposing strict restrictions on processing, including penalties for violations. Notably, Section 20 introduces the right to be forgotten, empowering individuals to halt the dissemination of their personal data. The bill’s significance extends globally with extraterritorial applicability, reaching creators beyond India. Once enacted, it is poised to become a potent tool in curbing the creation and circulation of deepfake videos, providing a comprehensive legal framework for the challenges posed by this emerging technology.

The setbacks

Deepfakes, particularly those of a sexually-explicit nature, have cast a dark shadow on women’s lives globally, with consequences echoing the prevailing attitudes towards women in different societies. From Zimbabwe to India, stories abound of women facing disownment, job loss, and educational hurdles due to revenge porn incidents. The insidious nature of these deepfakes makes them indistinguishable from reality, exacerbating the challenges. Journalist Rana Ayyub’s experience in India exemplifies the intersection of advocacy and cyber abuse, where a campaign tarnishing her reputation unfolded after she sought justice for a young victim.
Doctor Charan Teja Koganti, consultant psychiatrist KIMS Hospital, Kondapur, says, “Beyond professional setbacks, victims endure intangible wounds — loss of autonomy, privacy violations, trust issues, and a silencing effect that prompts withdrawal from online life. The psychological toll is profound, ranging from anxiety and depression to PTSD and substance abuse. Amidst these struggles, the slow response from online platforms adds insult to injury, compounding the challenges of combating image-based sexual violence.”

How to empower women

In the context of Indian society, where cultural norms and social dynamics may vary, enhancing digital literacy among women becomes paramount to address the growing concerns related to deepfake pornography. Providing specific training on recognising manipulated content, ensuring privacy settings on social media platforms, and educating them about the legal recourse available can empower women to protect themselves in the digital realm. Moreover, tailored awareness campaigns can play a crucial role in breaking societal stigmas and encouraging open conversations about online safety. “Regulations, developed through collaborative discussions with the technology industry, civil society, and policymakers, play a vital role in disincentivising malicious deepfake creation and distribution. Accessible technological solutions for detecting deepfakes, authenticating media, and promoting authoritative sources are also imperative. Moreover, societal behavioural change is key to countering the deepfake menace. Responsible consumption of online media, thoughtful sharing on social platforms, and active participation in addressing the infodemic are necessary for a comprehensive approach to tackling this evolving threat,” explains Aparna Bhat, a feminist and professor of English literature.

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Published 25 November 2023, 23:10 IST

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