Expert notes deepfakes' potential to impact national elections

Rhodes>Law>Latest News

Dr Nomalanga Mashinini (right) accepts a gift from a student at her lecture
Dr Nomalanga Mashinini (right) accepts a gift from a student at her lecture

By Ephreeda Banda


At a recent event hosted by Rhodes University’s Law Faculty on 16 April 2024, Dr Nomalanga Mashinini, a senior lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand specialising in image rights protection, discussed the challenges posed by deepfakes in maintaining electoral integrity.

In her public lecture, Dr Mashinini suggested that deepfakes, which involve the use of artificial intelligence deep learning to create fake digital media, are a significant threat due to their potential to spread misinformation and disrupt democratic processes.

Although Dr Mashinini did not advocate for specific new legislation targeting deepfakes, she emphasised the importance of examining how existing laws can be applied to them, especially in the context of elections. She suggests that laws such as the Films and Publications Act, the Protection of Personal Information Act, the Cybercrimes Act, and the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act could be reviewed to understand their effectiveness in addressing deepfakes, which can appear in various formats, including images, videos, audio, and text.

Highlighting the dangers to privacy and democratic integrity, Dr Mashinini pointed out the ease with which deepfakes can be used to spread false narratives and manipulate public opinion. She underscored the role of social media in amplifying these effects, potentially increasing political polarisation and affecting electoral outcomes.

Moreover, Dr Mashinini addressed the use of deepfakes in creating non-consensual pornography, specifically mentioning the manipulated images of celebrities like Taylor Swift. She suggested that such practices not only violate human dignity but also cause significant psychological distress.

Dr Mashinini advocated for a multi-faceted approach to regulation, combining legal measures, technology solutions, and public education to combat the rise of deepfakes. She also stressed the importance of digital literacy in helping individuals identify and resist mis- and disinformation.