Freedom of expression meets deepfakes

Synthese 202 (40):1-17 (2023)
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Abstract

Would suppressing deepfakes violate freedom of expression norms? The question is pressing because the deepfake phenomenon in its more poisonous manifestations appears to call for a response, and automated targeting of some kind looks to be the most practically viable. Two simple answers are rejected: that deepfakes do not deserve protection under freedom of expression legislation because they are fake by definition; and that deepfakes can be targeted if but only if they are misleadingly presented as authentic. To make progress, following a discussion of why freedom of expression deserves protection in a democracy, the question is reframed. At issue is not whether the arrival of deepfakes brings new and potentially serious dangers (it does), nor whether these dangers call for measures that potentially limit freedom of expression (they do), but whether the need for such measures raises any new and unfamiliar freedom-of-expression challenges. The answer to that question, surprisingly, is no. The balancing act needed to cope with the arrival of deepfakes brings plenty of difficulties, certainly, but none of the measures likely to be effective in tackling deepfake harms raises freedom-of-expression concerns that aren’t familiar from consideration of non-deepfake harms. In that respect, at least, the arrival of deepfakes makes no difference.

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Alex Barber
Open University (UK)

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