How to Explain Deepfakes to Your Kids 

By Jessica Jackson
May 8, 2023

You may have seen the deepfake videos showing popular celebrities doing and saying things they've never done. What is a deepfake? These are fake videos created using artificial intelligence. These videos can be harmless fun, but they can also spread misinformation or be used maliciously. With kids and teens spending hours watching videos on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, it's essential to teach them about deepfakes and how to detect them.

What is a deepfake?

Deepfakes are videos created using AI algorithms to make it appear as if someone is doing or saying something they didn't. They can involve celebrities, politicians, or even regular people. 

Kids might come across deepfakes involving their favorite YouTubers, TikTok stars, or animated characters. Most of the time they're harmless and entertaining, but sometimes they're created to spread misinformation or cause harm. It's important for you and your kids to learn how to spot these types of videos, and understand what to do when you encounter them.

Teaching kids to spot deepfakes

There are several telltale signs of a deepfake you can tell your kids to look out for:

  • Weird facial movements: Encourage kids to look for unusual facial expressions, blinking, or lip movements that don't seem natural.
  • Odd-sounding voices: Teach them to listen for voices that sound strange or don't match the person's mouth movements.
  • Strange backgrounds: Explain that if the background looks odd, blurry, or doesn't match the person's movements, it could be a deepfake.
  • Mismatched emotions: Remind kids that if the person in the video doesn't show the right emotions for the situation, it might be a fake.
  • Pixelation or blurriness: Point out that blurry or pixelated areas around the person's face or edges could indicate a manipulated video.
  • A questionable source: Tell kids that if a video comes from an unknown or untrustworthy website or account, it's more likely to be a deepfake.

There will be times, however, when it's simply too challenging for kids to determine whether a video is a deepfake, especially as technology continues to improve. This deepfake of Morgan Freeman is a good example of where we're headed:

In such situations, it's essential for kids to trust their instincts. 

If something feels off or too good to be true, it's worth asking questions and investigating further. If the video involves someone they know in an embarrassing or compromising situation, they should give that person the benefit of the doubt and assume it's a deepfake. Encourage them to ask you or another trusted adult for help if they're unsure whether a video is real or fake.

How to explain why people create deepfakes

It's important to help kids understand why some people create videos that put people and characters in false or misleading situations:

  • Entertainment: Some deepfakes are made for fun or to entertain people, like videos of celebrities doing silly things or famous movie scenes with different actors.
  • Art and creativity: Some artists use deepfakes as a way to express themselves or create unique content.
  • Misinformation: Unfortunately, some deepfakes are made to spread false information or manipulate people's opinions. These videos might involve politicians, news events, or other influential figures.
  • Malicious intent: In some cases, deepfakes are created to harm someone's reputation or cause emotional distress.

How to respond to deepfakes online

When kids encounter deepfakes online, it's essential to teach them how to respond appropriately:

  1. Don't share unverified content: Explain that sharing deepfakes, especially those spreading misinformation or harmful content, can contribute to the problem. Encourage kids to verify the authenticity of a video before sharing it.
  2. Report the video: If they come across a deepfake on a platform like YouTube or TikTok, show them how to report the video for inappropriate content or misinformation.
  3. Discuss with a trusted adult: Encourage kids to talk to you or another trusted adult if they have concerns or questions about a deepfake they've encountered.
  4. Be mindful of feelings: Remind kids that people in deepfake videos might be hurt or upset by the content. Encourage empathy and understanding of how they would feel if they were in a similar situation. 
  5. Promote critical thinking: Teach your children to think critically about the content they consume and not to believe everything they see or hear online.

Teach kids to protect their images and prepare for misuse

Deepfakes can be created to shame or bully people, and it's important for kids and teens to understand this dark side of the technology. By manipulating photos or videos, bad actors can make it look like someone is involved in embarrassing situations or activities they never took part in. These fake videos can seriously hurt a person's reputation, cause emotional pain, and make it difficult for them to feel safe online. 

It's crucial for young people to learn about this issue, practice empathy, and treat others with respect, both online and offline, to help create a safer and more supportive digital environment for everyone.

The risk of image misuse

As kids and teens share pictures and videos of themselves on social media, it's crucial to explain that these images could potentially be used to create deepfake videos. While it's unlikely for most people, it's essential to be aware of the risk and take steps to protect their digital identities.

Be cautious with sharing: Encourage kids and teens to think twice before sharing photos or videos of themselves, especially in public forums. Remind them that once something is posted online, it can be challenging to control who sees it or how it's used — and the greater the volume of images shared publicly, the more material the deepfake creator has to work with.

Adjust privacy settings: Teach them how to adjust privacy settings on their social media accounts to limit who can view their content. Encourage them to share only with friends and family, rather than publicly.

What to do if your child is in a deepfake

If your child discovers a deepfake video featuring their image, it's essential to address the issue calmly and take the following steps:

  • Report the video: Show your child how to report the video on the platform where they found it. Most social media sites have options for reporting inappropriate content, harassment, or bullying.
  • Document the evidence: Take screenshots or save a copy of the video as evidence. This documentation might be necessary if you decide to pursue legal action or need to prove the video is fake.
  • Contact the platform: Reach out to the platform's support team to explain the situation and request that the video be removed. Provide any evidence you've collected.
  • Talk to a trusted adult: Encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult about their feelings and concerns. This situation can be distressing, and having someone to confide in can be comforting.
  • Consider legal action: If the video causes significant harm or distress, consult with a lawyer to explore potential legal remedies. Unfortunately, only a few states currently have laws protecting victims of deepfakes, but the legal landscape is evolving as states catch up with technology. 

Addressing sexualized deepfakes with older teens

When discussing deepfakes with older teens, it's essential to address the issue of sexualized deepfakes. A study in 2019 found that 96% of deepfakes were pornographic, with nearly all of them targeting women. These deeply invasive and harmful deepfakes can have severe emotional and psychological consequences for victims.

Talking to teens about computer-generated pornography

  • Open a dialogue: Begin by talking openly with your teen about the issue of sexualized deepfakes. Make sure they understand the seriousness of the topic and the potential harm these videos can cause.
  • Share the facts: Inform them about the statistics, such as the prevalence of pornographic deepfakes and the fact that women are disproportionately targeted. This information will help them grasp the severity of the issue.
  • Discuss consent and respect: Reinforce the importance of consent and respecting others' boundaries, both online and offline. Emphasize that creating or sharing sexualized deepfakes is a violation of someone's privacy and consent — and it’s even illegal to create them in a few states.

Responding to sexualized deepfakes

If your teen or someone they know becomes a victim of a computer-generated pornography, offer guidance on how to respond:

  • Report and document: Advise them to report the video on the platform where it was found and to document any evidence, like screenshots or video files, which might be necessary for further action.
  • Reach out for support: Encourage your teen to talk to a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, or counselor, about the situation. They can provide guidance, support, and resources to help address the issue.
  • Don't engage with the perpetrator: Remind your teen not to engage with the person who created or shared the deepfake, as this could escalate the situation.
  • Consider legal action: In some cases, it might be appropriate to consult with a lawyer to explore possible legal remedies for the harm caused by the computer-generated image or video.

The bottom line

As parents, it's our responsibility to teach our children how to navigate the digital world safely. By explaining what deepfakes are, how to spot them, and how to respond, we can empower our kids to think critically, make informed decisions about the content they consume, and understand how to respond to online harassment if they are the victim of a deepfake. Encourage open communication with your children about their online experiences, and help them develop a critical eye toward the media they encounter.

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