Memes have now become an integral part of internet culture. Who goes a day without scrolling through memes? Probably very few people. Now, what about deepfakes? While the fairly recent technology, which consists of replacing a person’s face in an existing image or video with someone else’s likeness, remains linked to scarily realistic videos mainly used to spread fake news, deepfakes are slowly invading the world of memes. So what are deepfake memes exactly and could they represent the future of meme culture?
Memer Grace Windheim had heard of deepfakes before but she had never thought of making one. That was until she stumbled upon a viral meme using the technology. After seeing it, she started to research the possibility and discovered that it was super easy and completely free.
Speaking to the MIT Technology Review, Windheim explained that within a day, she had created a step-by-step YouTube tutorial to walk others through the process. “Making one of these deepfakes and overlaying audio is not as complicated as you may think,” she says in the video, published on 4 August 2020. Since then, it has been viewed over 360,000 times.
Windheim is not the only person who saw the meme potential in deepfakes. A new group of online creators are now playing around with deepfakes as the technology grows increasingly accessible. Deepfakes are the future of internet and meme culture. Think about it, memes are a simple manipulation of images and videos that turn pop culture into parody. While this recent phenomenon is not that surprising, it also raises new concerns about its potential for abuse.
Previously, deepfakes have been used to spread misinformation or even harass women by nonconsensually swapping their faces into porn videos. For now, the use of deepfakes when creating memes stays relatively harmless. But what if someone crosses that fine line between entertainment and harm?
Windheim, who works as a content creator at the San Francisco–based meme-maker startup Kapwing, told MIT that she first came across a particularly viral search term on Google Trends: “Baka Mitai deepfake meme.” She then started looking into it and found that this specific meme was based on a video of a YouTuber lip-synching to a Japanese video-game song called ‘Baka Mitai’, which translates into ‘I’ve Been a Fool’.
As it turns out, many internet users had used the video to create poorly-done deepfakes of literally everyone. From Barack Obama to Thanos, everyone was ‘singing’ that song. Despite the deepfake meme’s popularity, Windheim didn’t find much information on how exactly people made these videos. As the mind behind Kapwing’s YouTube channel, she saw the potential of filming a video on how to create deepfakes in simple steps.
Windheim found the particular open-source algorithm that people were using, which came from a 2019 research paper presented at NeurIPS, the largest annual AI research conference. Unlike others, this algorithm allows a user to take any video of a person’s face and use it to animate a photo of someone else’s face easily.
Windheim created her own deepfake video and synched it with Kapwing’s tools, creating a new and improved version of the meme. After she posted her tutorial on YouTube, more tutorials using the same copy-and-pasted algorithm started popping up. But where Windheim only taught viewers how to create the same meme deepfake, only better, many Youtubers are now teaching their audience how to make any kind of deepfake meme.
These memes are now appearing everywhere on social media, especially on TikTok. The platform’s #deepfake hashtag has already racked up more than 150 million views. For now, deepfake memes remain easy to recognise, as the faces used have a strange wonkiness to them. But at the rate that the technology is advancing, the likelihood of being able to create perfect and easy to make deepfakes might just be around the corner.
Chinese tech giant Tencent, owner of WeChat and a stake-holder in Fortnite, has already announced its intentions to invest more resources into advancing deepfakes for commercial applications. While nothing can be said for sure just yet, it certainly looks like deepfakes are the next big thing. Whether this is problematic remains to be seen but then again, which leads us to question, will this tip privacy rights into a worrying direction?
In the past century, the online sex industry has prospered—from ASCII porn, to Twitch streamers and tech dommes, camgirls have reached new heights but also new lows. With the recent emergence of deepfakes, many people are asking themselves what the future of porn, internet security and fake news will look like, and so do I. What measures must we now put into place to mediate this new form of content creation? I decided to venture into the universe of deepfakes, and research its repercussions on the inherently digital realm of cam girls, to see just how much it could change in the coming years.
For the newbies out there, neural networks use algorithms to generate deepfakes that then create imagery based on images they’ve been fed beforehand. Information flows through a neural network in two steps. When it’s learning or operating normally, patterns of information are fed into the network via the input units, which trigger the layers of hidden units, and these, in turn, arrive at the output units.
In this case, these neural networks are being used to accurately replace a person’s face with another, leading to incredibly realistic fake videos. It has become so rampant that there is now a whole category on Pornhub dedicated to falsified content of a plethora of celebrities. While deepnudes don’t affect celebrities that much, as these can easily be found and disproven, they will affect industries where the lines are more blurred, such as camgirling.
My predictions aim to be optimistic, but also acknowledge the potential setbacks of such emotionally detached imagery. From ideas of self-sufficiency to incel uprisings and computer-generated cam girl agencies, let’s have a look at what the rise of deepfakes could mean for the cam girl industry.
As any sex worker will tell you—everyone has their limits as to what they’re ok and not ok with. So what if they could still perform the acts they refuse to do without the physical and emotional labour? Being able to recycle content already online and fulfilling the client’s fantasy could be the answer to many performers wishing to keep a competitive edge. If you didn’t know your camgirl was faking this content, wouldn’t it be a win-win situation?
Being a camgirl is a full-time job, and the possibility of providing a steady stream of content to your fans could revolutionise the way they make their income. Will we reach an age where your favourite camgirl is always online? And could developments within emotional AI aid not only creating infinite content, but content tailored to you.
Another key aspect of the new deepnudes software is its ability to detect a deepnude, thus also serving as a means for sex workers to counteract content spread using their likeness against their will. This characteristic could potentially aid the mediation of this new software and, hopefully, give back control to those being unrightfully exploited in these images. The software could even hypothetically be integrated into websites where this content might be spread (ex: Pornhub), and limit its unlawful effects.
Within the tech domme realm, anything that can make the sub/dom experience more vivid and interactive is celebrated. This new software could improve the relationship between tech dommes and clients, offering up new ways to please the submissive slave. This could manifest itself as videos utilizing their face and the dominatrixes’ tactics, bridging the gap between the virtual sphere and reality.
For some, deepnudes are a way to engage in intimacy without the complexities of human emotion. With the share of men under 30 who haven’t had sex in the past year having tripled, this seems like it could hinder society’s current efforts to combat incel culture and the increasing disdain our generation has towards sex. Will deepnudes steer us toward more automated and primal experiences regarding sex?
Since Lil Miquela, Imma, Bermuda, and Blawko, the idea of accepting virtual characters into our real lives, seems more legitimate than ever. Computer-generated cam girls could be the next step in the porn industry.
Finally, representing the ultimate convergence between infinite post-biological profession and technology, is the concept of patenting your own identity. As we now increasingly value our faces as currency, could we see people selling their rights to their own face to these camgirl agencies? And, will we see retired pornstars such as Jenna Jameson or even Linda Lovelace, making a return to our computer screens?
While these things explore the ability for deepnudes to be used, I stand by the idea that, in a similar way to books, people will still seek out human connections. Rather than the industry becoming obsolete, it will evolve and provide a whole new realm of possibilities for creators and consumers alike. However, just like anything in the rapidly evolving digital realm, the most pressing issue is to have laws and procedures in place so that software can be used respectfully.