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The most urgent threat of deepfakes isn’t politics. It’s porn.

A video explainer with Kristen Bell.

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Kristen Bell first found out there were deepfake porn videos of her online from her husband, the actor Dax Shepard. In the videos, her face has been manipulated onto porn performers’ bodies.

“I was just shocked,” Bell told me. “It’s hard to think about that I’m being exploited.”

And this isn’t only happening to celebrities. Noelle Martin, a recent law graduate in Perth, Australia, discovered that someone took photos she’d shared on social media and used them first to photoshop her into nude images, and then to create deepfake videos.

Kristen Bell and Noelle Martin

Deepfakes are often portrayed as a political threat — fake videos of politicians making comments they never made. But in a recent report, the research group Deeptrace found that 96 percent of deepfakes found online are pornographic. Of those videos, virtually all are of women. And virtually all are made without their consent.

“There’s a lot of talk about the challenges that come with the advancements in deepfake technology,” Martin said. “But I think what is often missed from the discussion is the impact to individuals right now. Not in a few years, not in a couple of months. Right now.”

Deepfake animation

What’s happening in these videos is a specific kind of digital manipulation. It’s not the same as the older face-swapping filters you might have used on social media. Those tools let you put your face onto a friend’s head, but because they transfer both your facial features and your expressions, you still control it.

Deepfakes are different. They can take your facial features alone and animate your face with someone else’s expressions. That’s what makes them so invasive. The creator takes away a victim’s control of her face, using it for something she never wanted. In doing so, they contribute to a long history of sexual humiliation of women.

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