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Virginia’s ‘revenge porn’ laws now officially cover deepfakes

Jeff Bezos/Elon Musk FakeApp model training

Virginia has officially expanded its nonconsensual pornography ban to include realistic fake videos and photos, including computer-generated “deepfakes.” The amendment was passed earlier this year and goes into effect today, making Virginia one of the first places with a law covering deepfakes.

Since 2014, Virginia has banned spreading nude images or video “with the intent to coerce, harass, or intimidate” another person. The amendment clarifies that this includes “a falsely created videographic or still image” — which could refer to “deepfakes” video but also Photoshopped images or otherwise faked footage. Violating the rule is a Class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to 12 months in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.

“Deepfakes” — a term that was coined to describe AI-generated face-swaps in pornography, but has been expanded to cover faked media more generally — have raised serious alarm among lawmakers and the public. Deepfakes creators often map women’s faces onto pornography, making them an easy venue for nonconsensual pornography or “revenge porn.” An app called DeepNude modified pictures of women to make them appear nude; it shut down soon after Motherboard reported on its existence.

Critics also fear that deepfakes could be used to spread political misinformation. Those fears intensified after the spread of a doctored video that made House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) sound drunk, although the video did not use deepfakes-related technology.

In US Congress, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) both introduced bills that would regulate deepfakes. Texas has also passed its own anti-deepfakes law, which goes into effect on September 1st. But that law deals entirely with manipulating elections, not nonconsensual porn. New York state lawmakers also proposed a bill that would ban creating “digital replicas” of people without their consent, but the Motion Picture Association of America has warned that it would “restrict the ability of our members to tell stories about and inspired by real people and events.”

Nonconsensual pornography laws are also a relatively recent phenomenon, but they’ve spread quickly over the past several years; as The New York Times notes, 41 states had banned “revenge porn” by early 2019.