Synthese 199 (5-6):13373-13391 (2021)

Keith Raymond Harris
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
This paper defends two main theses related to emerging deepfake technology. First, fears that deepfakes will bring about epistemic catastrophe are overblown. Such concerns underappreciate that the evidential power of video derives not solely from its content, but also from its source. An audience may find even the most realistic video evidence unconvincing when it is delivered by a dubious source. At the same time, an audience may find even weak video evidence compelling so long as it is delivered by a trusted source. The growing prominence of deepfake content is unlikely to change this fundamental dynamic. Thus, through appropriate patterns of trust, whatever epistemic threat deepfakes pose can be substantially mitigated. The second main thesis is that focusing on deepfakes that are intended to deceive, as epistemological discussions of the technology tend to do, threatens to overlook a further effect of this technology. Even where deepfake content is not regarded by its audience as veridical, it may cause its viewers to develop psychological associations based on that content. These associations, even without rising to the level of belief, may be harmful to the individuals depicted and more generally. Moreover, these associations may develop in cases in which the video content is realistic, but the audience is dubious of the content in virtue of skepticism toward its source. Thus, even if—as I suggest—epistemological concerns about deepfakes are overblown, deepfakes may nonetheless be psychologically impactful and may do great harm.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-021-03379-y
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