Memes Could Be Criminalized After California Passes “Deep Fake” Law

A new “Deep Fake” law could hurt internet jokesters.

California has passed a draconian law meant to protect its residents from potentially-negative side effects stemming from “deep fakes,” but the law could change the internet as we know it.

To that end, California governor Gavin Newsom signed two new bills into law in order to fight back against deep fakes.

“The first makes it illegal to post any manipulated videos that could, for instance, replace a candidate’s face or speech in order to discredit them, within 60 days of an election,” according to Engadget. “The other will allow residents of the state to sue anyone who puts their image into a pornographic video using deepfake technology.”

Obviously, combatting deepfake pornography is an important imperative, but the implications of criminalizing “manipulated videos” is concerning.

As recently as May, there was a national kerfuffle about a “doctored” video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) stammering through a speech. The video wasn’t so much “doctored” as it was edited to several clips which showed individual instances of Pelosi slurring her words during the speech, and then mashed together. Under California’s new law, it is possible that a video maker could be criminally charged for making such a video, depending on how the state legally defines the word “manipulated.”

Just last week, a similar instance occurred when the media claimed that President Donald J. Trump shared a “doctored” image inside a Nickelback music video. The video was obviously a meme, but the media jumped on Trump anyway. Would California authorities arrest and prosecute the person who “manipulated” that video?

California lawmakers remain belligerent in defense of the law.

“Voters have a right to know when video, audio, and images that they are being shown, to try to influence their vote in an upcoming election, have been manipulated and do not represent reality,” California Assembly representative Marc Berman reportedly said. “[That] makes deepfake technology a powerful and dangerous new tool in the arsenal of those who want to wage misinformation campaigns to confuse voters.”

Interesting that lawmakers in California, home to Silicon Valley, are concerned with the power of technology only when they perceive a threat to their own political interests. When Big Tech openly silences conservatives for sharing ordinary conservative viewpoints, they have no such concerns.

But even the American Civil Liberties Union, a notoriously leftist group, denounced the new law.

“Despite the author’s good intentions, this bill will not solve the problem of deceptive political videos,” the group said in an open letter to Newsom. “It will only result in voter confusion, malicious litigation and repression of free speech.”

The fact that the state’s first instinct is to criminalize freedom of expression is worrisome to those of us who care about the First Amendment. Meanwhile, the political right still does not have the absolute right to speak freely online without fear of being censored or drummed out of political discourse completely via a ban from social networks.

Perhaps instead of taking measures to protect the powerful from perceived sleights-of-hand, lawmakers could focus on the interests of ordinary people facing challenges from Big Tech daily.

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