In a Facebook ad, a woman with a face identical to actor Emma Watson’s face smiles coyly and bends down in front of the camera, appearing to initiate a sexual act. But the woman isn’t Watson, the “Harry Potter” star. The ad was part of a massive campaign this week for a deepfake app, which allows users to swap any face into any video of their choosing.
Deepfakes are content where faces or sounds are switched out or manipulated. Commonly, deepfake creators make videos in which celebrities are made to look like they are willingly appearing in them, even though they are not. Increasingly, the technology has been used to make nonconsensual pornography featuring the faces of celebrities, influencers or any person, including children.
The ad campaign on Meta nods to the fact that this once-advanced technology has rapidly spread to readily available consumer applications being advertised on mainstream parts of the internet. Despite many platforms prohibiting manipulative and malicious deepfake content, apps like the ones reviewed by NBC News have been able to slip through the cracks.
On Sunday and Monday, an app for creating “DeepFake FaceSwap” videos rolled out more than 230 ads on Meta’s services, including Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, according to a review of Meta’s ad library. Some of the ads showed what looked like the beginning of pornographic videos with the well-known sound of the porn platform Pornhub’s intro track playing. Seconds in, the women’s faces were swapped with those of famous actors.
When Lauren Barton, a journalism student in Tennessee, saw the same ad on a separate application, she was shocked enough to screen-record it and tweet it out, where it received over 10 million views, according to Twitter’s views counter.
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“This could be used with high schoolers in public schools who are bullied,” Barton said. “It could ruin somebody’s life. They could get in trouble at their job. And this is extremely easy to do and free. All I had to do was upload a picture of my face and I had access to 50 free templates.”
Of the Meta ads, 127 featured Watson’s likeness. Another 74 featured the actor Scarlett Johansson’s face swapped with those of women in similarly provocative videos. Neither actor responded to a request for comment.
“Replace face with anyone,” the captions on 80 of the ads read. “Enjoy yourself with AI swap face technology.”
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