Studying the online deepfake community

Woman with her face tracked using AI

In the evolving landscape of digital manipulation and misinformation, deepfake technology has emerged as a dual-use technology. While the technology has diverse applications in art, science, and industry, its potential for malicious use in areas such as disinformation, identity fraud, and harassment has raised concerns about its dangerous implications. Consequently, a number of deepfake creation communities, including the pioneering r/deepfakes on Reddit, have faced deplatforming measures to mitigate risks.

A noteworthy development unfolded in February 2018, just over a week after the removal of r/deepfakes, as MrDeepFakes (MDF) made its entrance into the online realm. Functioning as a privately owned platform, MDF positioned itself as a community hub, boasting to be the largest online space dedicated to deepfake creation and discussion. Notably, this purported communal role sharply contrasts with the platform's primary function — serving as a host for nonconsensual deepfake pornography.

Researchers at NYU Tandon led by Rachel Greenstadt, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and a member of the NYU Center for Cybersecurity, undertook an exploration of these two key deepfake communities utilizing a mixed methods approach, combining quantitative and qualitative analysis. The study aimed to uncover patterns of utilization by community members, the prevailing opinions of deepfake creators regarding the technology and its societal perception, and attitudes toward deepfakes as potential vectors of disinformation.

Their analysis, presented in a paper written by lead author and Ph.D. candidate Brian Timmerman, revealed a nuanced understanding of the community dynamics on these boards. Within both MDF and r/deepfakes, the predominant discussions lean towards technical intricacies, with many members expressing a commitment to lawful and ethical practices. However, the primary content produced or requested within these forums were nonconsensual and pornographic deepfakes. Adding to the complexity are facesets that raise concerns, hinting at potential mis- and disinformation implications with politicians, business leaders, religious figures, and news anchors comprising 22.3% of all faceset listings.

In addition to Greenstadt and Timmerman, the research team includes Pulak Mehta, Progga Deb, Kevin Gallagher, Brendan Dolan-Gavitt, and Siddharth Garg.

Timmerman, B., Mehta, P., Deb, P., Gallagher, K., Dolan-Gavitt, B., Garg, S., Greenstadt, R. (2023). Studying the online Deepfake Community. Journal of Online Trust and Safety, 2(1).