Boosting the laws to fight online deepfakes

I have had countless conversations with my kids about the potential dangers of the internet and how to be safe online. But emerging and evolving technologies, such as deepfakes, are making online and social media safety more challenging than ever.

A deepfake is a hyper-realistic video that has been created or altered with machine-learning technology so that it presents something that did not actually occur. One of the most shared deepfakes online presents Steve Buscemi’s face convincingly imposed onto Jennifer Lawrence’s body in a post-awards show interview. This is a lighthearted example of a deepfake, but this technology is also being used in more nefarious ways.

Some of the early deepfakes focused on celebrities – almost exclusively women – and placing their faces into explicit videos. These videos are violating in nature and can be used to shame those who are falsely placed in them.

This technology is evolving quickly and will soon be available beyond experienced programmers to simply anyone who downloads an app. Then our concern isn’t just for movie stars, but for the everyday child and teenager.

I have authored legislation this year that addresses my fear, and the fear of others researching deepfakes, that a child could cyberbully classmates by placing their faces in a lewd video and sharing it on social media – where it would live on forever. This could be devastating to a young person. Studies have shown that minors who experience this kind of bullying have higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

In recent years, there has been a rise in cases of revenge porn, where someone posts sensitive pictures online of someone else without that person’s permission. One in 25 Americans have either been the victim of revenge porn or have been threatened by it, and many of these Americans are women or minors. Over half of these victims contemplate suicide.

Thankfully, our state has already acted to criminalize revenge porn, but this crime only applies when someone distributes already existing explicit content without someone’s consent. There is a loophole when someone has created falsified explicit content through deepfake technology and then distributes it for the world to see.

California judges have ruled that publishing sexual content of a minor is only criminal when there is a real person involved. This is an issue because deepfakes are technically only depicting a person’s likeness – despite showing what looks like a real person participating in real events.

I authored Assembly Bill 1280 to close this loophole and make it a crime for anyone to produce and distribute a deepfake with sexual content without the consent of the person in the video. This crime will be enhanced to a felony charge for anyone who is using deepfake technology to create child pornography.

Victims of cyberbullying can’t stop online harassment; it lingers for years. I want to ensure that we have every tool in our toolbox to protect minors and young people online so they don’t feel like their lives are ruined before they even begin.

For more about social media safety and my legislative work, call my Concord district office at 925-521-1511.
Reach Assemblyman Tim Grayson at (925) 521-1511. Visit or write the district office 2151 Salvio Street, Suite P, Concord, CA 94520