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Colin Johnson’s blog


Acceptability of Deepfakes for Trivial Corrections: The Thin End of a Wedge?

Clearly deepfakes are unacceptable, yes? It is morally unsound to create a fake video of someone saying or doing something, and to play that off as a real recording of that person doing it.

But, what about a minor correction? I recently saw a video about personal development, talking about how people move through various stages of life, and making a number of very positive points and pieces of advice. I thought that this might be useful as part of a professional development session to show to a group of students. But, there was a problem. At some point, the speaker talks about life changes, and talks about adolescence, including a reference to “when people start to get interested in the opposite sex”. The heteronormativity of this made me flinch, and I certainly wouldn’t want this to be presented, unadorned, to a group of students. This is both because of the content as such, and because I wouldn’t want the session to be derailed onto a discussion of this specific point, when it was a minor and easily replaceable example, not core to the argument.

I suppose what I would typically do would be to use it, but to offer a brief comment at the beginning that there was something not germane to the main argument, but which was problematic, but on balance I thought it would be good to use this resource despite the problematic phrase. I might even edit it out. Certainly if I was handing out a transcript rather than using the video, I would cut it out using an […] ellipsis. But, these solutions might still focus attention on it.

So—would it be acceptable to use a deepfake here? To replace “when people start to get interested in the opposite sex” with “when people start to develop an awareness of sexuality”, for example? There seems something dubious about this—we are putting words into someones mouth (well, more accurately, putting their mouth around some words). But, we aren’t really manipulating the main point. It’s a bit like how smoking has been edited out of some films, particularly when they are to be shown to children—the fact of the character smoking isn’t a big plot point, it was just what a character happened to be doing.

So, is this acceptable? Not acceptable? Just about okay, but the thin end of the wedge?

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