Alison Weissbrot
Sep 29, 2020

US networks drop deepfake democracy campaign at last minute

The activation by former BBDO CCO Greg Hahn’s agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address was scheduled to air during Tuesday’s US presidential debates.

US networks drop deepfake democracy campaign at last minute

A new campaign that used deepfake technology to render videos of Vlatimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un addressing Americans about the fragility of democracy was pulled on Monday by local cable operators from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC.

The campaign was scheduled to air on local broadcasts of the presidential debate on Tuesday evening in Washington, D.C., but were rejected last minute by local stations’ legal teams.

Further details about the decision to pull the ad are not known at this stage, according to Mischief @ No Fixed Address, the agency behind the campaign. The local stations that placed the ad did not respond to request for comment in time for publication.

The campaign, for anti-corruption nonprofit RepresentUs, used deepfake technology to hijack the voices of America's sworn enemies from North Korea and Russia to highlight what’s at stake in this year’s election. The spots note efforts already underway to disenfranchise voters in the U.S., such as ongoing partisan division and the mismanagement of polling locations.

The ads will still run on social media today and will be amplified by high-profile RepresentUs ambassadors such as Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom and Katy Griffin.

The nonpartisan campaign aims to unite Americans against a common enemy -- misinformation and corruption -- during an extremely partisan election, said Greg Hahn, cofounder and CCO at Mischief.

“There are people outside America also watching this election, and they know how fragile our democracy is,” he said. “Having that message come from the horses’ mouths was a technique to get the idea across in a powerful way.”

The spots are also meant to underscore how prevalent deepfake technology and misinformation is in politics. The realistic videos are capped off with a note explaining the footage isn’t real, but the problem is.

“You would believe it if you didn't know any better,” Hahn said, “so it shows how compelling [deepfakes] can be.”

The team produced the videos by casting real people to voice the spots who had the right tone and physical features to complement the deepfake image overlay. Mischief used a dummy script during casting to keep the campaign under wraps prior to launch.

It is surprisingly easy to produce chillingly realistic deepfake videos with the right attention to detail, said Zach Math, director at Mischief.

“You can deepfake people onto actors and get them to say whatever you want,” he said. “It's scary, and hopefully it breaks the apathy amongst a certain section of the voting public.”

The campaign’s goal is to combat voter apathy. Each spot ends with a call to action to visit RepresentUs’s website, which outlines six steps to take action in this year’s election on its homepage, from registering to vote to requesting an absentee ballot.

“We want people to know that yes, there is noise, but you can do things to take steps toward a fair election,” Hahn said. “If we have a democracy in two months, we know it worked.”

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