Dr. Hany Farid, Facebook, Deepfakes|Jan 16, 2020|CEP Staff

Tech & Terrorism: Following Public Outcry and Government Criticism, Facebook Makes Another Reactive Policy Change

Company’s Latest Policy Still Inadequate For Tackling Misinformation

Last week, Facebook announced a new policy change in their aim to eliminate deepfakes and the spread of manipulated media ahead of the 2020 presidential election. In their updated Manipulated Media section of their Community Standards, Facebook said they would remove misleading manipulated media if “that has been edited or synthesized, beyond adjustments for clarity or quality, in ways that are not apparent to an average person, and would likely mislead an average person to believe that a subject of the video said words that they did not say AND is the product of artificial intelligence or machine learning, including deep learning techniques (e.g., a technical deepfake), that merges, combines, replaces, and/or superimposes content onto a video, creating a video that appears authentic.”

The announcement represents yet another in a series of reactive policy changes that are made only after a public relations crisis or government pressure. Facebook’s latest efforts come after months of criticism for failing to adequately address a manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and ahead of a company representative’s testimony before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Moreover, Facebook’s new deepfakes policy fails to cover deliberately deceptive videos created using low-tech means that could just as easily promote misinformation and sow discord as high-tech AI-edited videos.

Dr. Hany Farid, a digital forensics expert at the University of California, Berkeley and senior advisor to the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), criticized the company’s latest policy and described it as “narrowly construed.” Dr. Farid said to The Washington Post, “These misleading videos were created using low-tech methods and did not rely on AI-based techniques, but were at least as misleading as a deep-fake video of a leader purporting to say something that they didn’t. Why focus only on deep-fakes and not the broader issue of intentionally misleading videos?”

For over a decade, Facebook has faced criticism for the misuse of its platform on issues ranging from the publication of inappropriate content to user privacy and safety. Rather than taking preventative measures, Facebook has too often jumped to make policy changes after damage has already been done. CEP has documented instances in which Facebook has made express policy changes following public accusations, a scandal, or pressure from lawmakers. While one would hope that Facebook is continuously working to improve security on its platform, there is no excuse as to why so many policy changes have been reactive, and it raises the question as to what other scandals are in the making due to still-undiscovered lapses in Facebook’s current policy.

To read the CEP report Tracking Facebook’s Policy Changes, please click here.