Lawmakers say Facebook deepfake ban falls short

Facebook’s global policy chief faced tough questions before a House panel on Wednesday as lawmakers voiced skepticism over the company’s efforts to crack down on manipulated videos known as deepfakes ahead of the 2020 elections.

The social media platform unveiled plans to ban such videos late Monday night, but critics quickly condemned the policy for not going far enough.

The issue: Facebook’s new policy bans videos that have been “edited or synthesized” by technology like artificial intelligence in a way that is not “apparent to an average person.”

But under those new guidelines, the video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) edited to make her appear intoxicated that went viral last year and the video of former Vice President Joe Biden cut to show him touting white nationalist views would not be covered under the ban.

What Democrats are saying: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) opened the hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce by slamming Facebook’s new policy.

“Big Tech failed to respond to the grave threats posed by deepfakes, as evidenced by Facebook scrambling to announce a new policy that strikes me as wholly inadequate,” Schakowsky, the subcommittee chairwoman, said, noting that the video of Pelosi has already been viewed millions of times.

Facebook’s response: The social media giant’s vice president of global policy management, Monika Bickert, stressed during Wednesday’s testimony that the new rule is an addition to a broad set of existing community standards intended to target disinformation.

Schakowsky pressed Bickert on whether the new policy would cover the edited Pelosi video.

“It would not fall under that policy, but it would still be subject to our other policies that address misinformation,” Bickert explained.

Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) pressed Facebook about its approach to manipulated videos that don’t qualify as deepfakes during the hearing.

“Why wouldn’t Facebook simply take down the fake Pelosi video?” he asked.

“Our approach is to give people more information, so that if something’s going to be in the public discourse they will know how to assess it, how to contextualize it,” Bickert responded.

“[The Pelosi video] was labeled false at the time, we think we could have gotten that to fact-checkers quicker and we think the label could have been clearer. We now have the label for something that has been rated false [so] you have to click through it, it actually obscures the image.”

Lawmakers want more: Lawmakers pressed Bickert to better clarify the rules, with one Republican, Rep. Larry Bucshon (Ind.), asking her how the company identified an “average person” under their guidelines for detecting deepfakes.

Bickert said the company was working with experts to detail the best approach.

“Congressman, these are exactly the questions we’ve been discussing with more than 50 experts as we’ve tried to write this policy,” Bickert replied, adding that Facebook is focused on making more information available to the public.