Wyoming bill aiming to prevent ‘deep fakes’ moves forward

State lawmakers are trying to put measures in place to hold people accountable for disinformation, as the 2024 presidential election looms.
A user generates a series of images using Pixlr. (David Dudley/KHOL)

by | Feb 28, 2024 | Politics & Policy

Synthetic media, also known as deep fakes, are populating the online world with pictures, video and audio at an alarming rate — and they’re wreaking havoc in the real world.

From a fake Taylor Swift peddling Le Creuset kitchenware, to a fake Miley Cyrus cover of Beyonce’s “Texas Hold ‘Em,” digital doubles are becoming more prevalent, violating copyright laws, watering down the art world and threatening human rights.

With the 2024 presidential election looming, the Wyoming Senate is trying to change that, or to at least hold someone accountable with Senate File 51. But who, exactly? That was the question that sparked debate in a Senate meeting on Feb. 21.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss, from Albany County, tried to clarify.

“If you understand that the information is false and misleading,” said Rothfuss, “and then you continue to disseminate that without warning people that it’s false, then you would potentially be open to a civil action and lawsuit.”

Thanks to programs like ChatGPT, Pixlr and Sora, which generates video based upon user prompts, the tools to create deep fakes are more accessible than ever. And bad actors aren’t registering for these services with real names and addresses, which makes them nearly impossible to track.

Lobbyists from Google and Charter Communications sought to protect their companies’ interests, saying the bill seemed to suggest that platforms like YouTube and TikTok should be at fault when deep fakes impact the real world.

But Travis McNiven, from Google’s Government Affairs team, testified to the Senate that platforms don’t have the capacity to monitor every piece of content that’s posted. He added that the bill, if passed without revisions, could open the floodgates for litigation, inviting anybody who feels that they’ve been deceived to file a lawsuit against platforms with deep pockets.

Rothfuss acknowledged the challenge of protecting people from undue harm, while balancing their first amendment right to freedom of speech.

“We spent some time during this last interim on the blockchain Select Committee talking with AI experts, and then trying to find a way that we could balance first amendment rights and make sure that everybody had expressive freedom opportunities with their digital art,” said Rothfuss. “But at the same time, [to] ensure that the public had access to truthful information when they think it’s truthful information.”

But how to differentiate between satire, like a Trump vs. Biden video that shows the likely presidential candidates lip-synching lyrics from hip hop supergroup Run The Jewels, and deep fakes explicitly designed to deceive?

The bill said that the creators of deep fakes must add disclaimers acknowledging that content was generated by AI, otherwise, they may be subject to prosecution.

It passed its third reading in the Senate. It will need to pass in the House to get on the governor’s desk and become law.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

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