The US House Ethics Committee informed House members yesterday that posting audio or video that has been altered for misleading effect on social media, also known as deepfakes, might be in violation of House rules.
The memo says that “manipulation of images and videos that are intended to mislead the public can harm that discourse and reflect discreditably on the House.” It doesn’t explicitly ban House representatives and staff from posting deepfakes on social media, but it does urge House members to exercise caution and make sure that a deepfake they may be posting isn’t something that could be intentionally misleading.
Last May, distorted videos were posted on social media that appeared to show House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stammering or slurring her words. One video racked up more than 2 million views, according to The Washington Post. Yesterday’s Ethics Committee memo appears to be trying to prevent House members from sharing misleading deepfakes like the Pelosi video when they inevitably go viral in the future. Still, it’s unclear exactly what might happen to a House member if they posted a deepfake that was intentionally misleading.
While politicians are trying to tackle the deepfake issue from the legislative end, social platforms are also putting in place new, stricter policies around deepfakes. Twitter proposed draft deepfake policies in November and asked users to take a survey to provide input on them. The company hasn’t announced the final policies or results of that survey.
Facebook banned deepfakes earlier this month, but it’s not an all-out ban — satire and parody deepfakes are still permitted. Just days later, Reddit updated its policies to ban impersonation on the platform, which includes deepfakes, but satire and parody will also be allowed on its platform. And even yesterday’s House memo recognizes that House members can contribute to public discourse through parody and satire on social media.
That “satire” line might be hard to enforce, both for social media platforms and the House Ethics committee, especially during the heavy social media activity expected around this year’s US elections.