Aya Yadlin-Segal, Professor of Politics and Communication at Hadassah Academic College, presented a lecture entitled “Women’s Rights are Human Rights: Understanding Deepfake Content as a Violation of Human Rights,” on Tuesday, Sept. 24 as a part of this year’s Human Rights lecture series. Yadlin-Segal, the fourth lecturer for the series this year, focused on the impact of a new and unregulated technology called deepfake, as well as the media’s role in its regulation.

“Deepfake technology is categorized under artificial intelligence, which means that we have human-machine interaction that leads to the learning of the web,” Yadlin-Segal said. “What we see in deepfake learning—or deep learning—is that computers or algorithms are able to map and identify specific content on the web, collect it, and synthesize it into new content forms, for example videos online.”

As Yadlin-Segal explained, deepfake technology is currently being used to victimize women, including but not limited to celebrities. The technology allows the user to take videos and replace one face with another. In one common use, users take online pornographic content and replace one woman’s face with another’s, giving many women justified fears about putting videos and photos of themselves on social media and online. This issue particularly applies to sex workers, whose sense of safety is lost in internet forums and platforms.

“Women who are being represented in pornographic content lose their ability to consent their appearance in pornographic content,” Yadlin-Segal said.

Yadlin-Segal discussed that this gendered phenomenon is not just happening on the dark web, but is shared daily on popular social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter. As such, Yadlin-Segal says that journalists not only need to inform the general public about deepfake technology, but also to recognize their responsibility in shaping the public’s views of it. 

“Journalists have the potential to influence what we think as readers about these technologies,” Yadlin-Segal said. “Journalists are able to bring forward salient topics that are discussed in specific social contexts. They highlight specific contexts that we need to take into consideration in our day-to-day lives.”

Yadlin-Segal further explored how journalists frame issues surrounding deepfake technology and how this compares to the way deepfake technology is regulated in internet policy. After spending a year collecting and analyzing public deepfake content online, she concluded that when deepfake technology becomes a gendered issue, the only solution is regulation. Journalists also play a vital role in making women’s rights online viewed as a critical issue both domestically and internationally.

Yadlin-Segal advocates for the domestic regulation of deepfake technology first, and then, given its worldwide accessibility online, more widespread regulation as the technology develops further and more becomes known about it. 

“Both within countries—such as the Jewish diasporas within Israel—or across national boundaries, [deep learning] is a very interesting new field and there are not many people working on it and developing technologies,” said Peter Rutland, Wesleyan’s Colin and Nancy Campbell Professor of Global Issues and Democratic.

In a Q&A session following her lecture, Yadlin-Segal discussed the dystopian implications of not regulating deepfake technology. She continued to emphasize online literacy, and reinforced her earlier statement that this new technology needs to be regulated. 

“There is much thinking that needs to be done in regards to how, but agreeing that it should happen is the starting point,” Yadlin-Segal said.


Hallie Sternberg can be reached at hsternberg@wesleyan.edu

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