Emerging Threat of Deep Fakes Sparks Wyoming Senate Debate on Accountability and First Amendment Rights

Cheyenne, Wyoming – Synthetic media, commonly known as deep fakes, are flooding the digital landscape with manipulated images, videos, and audio, causing significant disruptions in the real world. From fake Taylor Swift endorsing kitchenware to a counterfeit Miley Cyrus cover of Beyonce’s “Texas Hold ‘Em,” the prevalence of digital doubles is not only violating copyright laws but also posing a threat to human rights and undermining the integrity of the art world.

In light of the upcoming 2024 presidential election, the Wyoming Senate is taking action to address this issue through Senate File 51. However, the question of who should be held accountable for the dissemination of deep fakes sparked a heated debate during a recent Senate meeting.

Senate Minority Leader Chris Rothfuss attempted to provide clarification, stating that individuals who knowingly continue to spread false and misleading information without warning others could potentially face civil action and lawsuits. The accessibility of tools like ChatGPT, Pixlr, and Sora has made it easier than ever to create deep fakes. Adding to the challenge, these bad actors often use fake identities, making it incredibly difficult to track them down.

During the Senate hearing, representatives from Google and Charter Communications argued for the protection of their companies’ interests. They expressed concerns that the bill seemed to place blame on platforms like YouTube and TikTok for the impact of deep fakes on the real world.

Travis McNiven, from Google’s Government Affairs team, testified that platforms lack the capacity to monitor every single piece of content posted. He warned that the bill, if passed without revisions, could potentially open the floodgates for litigation, allowing anyone who feels deceived to file lawsuits against deep-pocketed platforms.

Rothfuss acknowledged the delicate balance between protecting individuals from harm while safeguarding their right to freedom of speech. He mentioned that the blockchain Select Committee has been working on finding ways to strike a balance between expressive freedom and ensuring public access to truthful information.

The question arises: how can we distinguish between satirical content and deep fakes designed to deceive? The proposed bill suggests that creators of deep fakes must include disclaimers identifying the content as AI-generated; otherwise, they may face prosecution.

The bill has successfully passed two readings in the Senate and will soon be considered by the House. Its potential impact on combating the spread of deep fakes and safeguarding the truth in the digital age is yet to be determined.

[Note: This article was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting coverage of state government issues by Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio.]