Local Fox News, MSNBC and CNN affiliates banned ads featuring deepfakes of Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un meant to air during last night’s debate, reports Media Post.
Deepfakes are a controversial technology that uses AI overlays to make actors look and sound like whoever the advertisers want. In this case, the ads showed Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un warning Americans about the threat they posed to democracy while encouraging people to go out and vote. Both ads have the fake “dictators” telling Americans that “I don’t have to do anything. You’re doing it to yourselves,” referencing the potential for a chaotic election process this November. Both ads end with the disclaimer, “This footage is not real, but the threat is.”
The ad was developed by the non-profit RepresentUs in partnership with creative agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address as a part of a campaign meant to protect voter rights. President and Co-founder of RepresentUs, Joshua Graham Lynn, told reporters at Insider that “by featuring two leaders who have a vested interest in the collapse of our democratic system, we are putting the American people face-to-face with just how fragile our democracy really is. We hope it inspires Americans to come together to fight for this one issue that unites us all.”
The ads were designed to be provocative and attention grabbing so that they may shock their audience into taking actions such as checking their voter registration or volunteering for the polls. “There is so much noise in this political environment that people can be overwhelmed and left feeling it’s all out of their hands, there’s nothing they can do,” explains Greg Hahn, the co-founder and chief creative officer at Mischief @ No Fixed Address. “Apathy is actually the intent of the noise. It was really critical to cut through all of that in a way that provokes.”
This reasoning marks a departure from how experts are used to thinking about deepfakes, notes Karen Hao from MIT Technology Review. “It flips the script on the typical narrative of political deepfakes, which experts often worry could be abused to confuse voters and disrupt elections,” she writes.
Local Washington D.C. affiliates of Fox News, CNN and MSNBC all gave no reason for dropping the ads at the last minute after they were initially pre-approved. Karen Hao suggests that “the sensitive nature of using deepfakes in a political context” left the networks hesitant to air the advertisements. The ads still aired on various social media platforms with support from influencers including Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Jennifer Lawrence, Ed Helms, Alyssa Milano, and Kathy Griffin.