Deepfake Election 2020 Scenarios Feedback
What should social media platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, and policy makers do to ensure that the outcome of democratic processes aren’t negatively impacted by deepfakes? To stimulate thinking on this question, as well as the broader ethics and governance of deepfakes, we wrote a series of fictitious scenarios about how deepfakes could impact the 2020 US elections. We'd love to get your feedback on each of the 7 scenarios below, as well as overall.

Nicholas Diakopoulos (nad@northwestern.edu)
Deborah Johnson (dgj7p@virginia.edu)
Scenario 1
A small veterans’ organization would like to see Seth Moulton win the democratic primary because although he is not the only candidate with military experience, he is the only one with significant combat experience and the only one making veterans issues a central component of his campaign. The group becomes a Political Action Committee (PAC) and raises funds to make a promotional video for Moulton. The video consists of a combination of video clips with voice over that valorize his bravery. One of the clips is a synthesized depiction of an incident in Iraq when Moulton heroically saved the lives of several members of his platoon. The video is posted on YouTube without any indication that one portion is synthesized. Thousands view the video; hundreds make comments. From the comments, it is apparent that some viewers believe the video is real footage taken by a reporter present at the event. Other comments include complaints from soldiers in Moulton’s platoon who claim that the depiction is an exaggeration of what happened. Because of the comments the video has mixed effects: some are convinced that Moulton is a true hero – a quality that they would like in a president; others, including many cable news reporters, focus on the negative comments and the deceptiveness of the video.
Scenario 1 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 1 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 1 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 2
The race is neck and neck with only 3 days before the 2020 general election between Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren. The winner may largely come down to who turns out to vote. Trump’s campaign advisors develop a strategy to get out the vote amongst his base: disaffected white voters. Campaign staff synthesize a deepfake video of Warren in a supposed close-door meeting with a few select members of the Black Congressional Caucus, and post it on Twitter and YouTube. In the cellphone-quality video she is heard saying disparaging and hateful things about white men in the US. In a matter of hours, Warren as well as other people falsely depicted in the video, publicly proclaim that the video is a fake. CNN and MSNBC quickly spread the word that the video is likely a fake. Nevertheless it spreads virally throughout social media, propelled and further amplified by troll and bot accounts. The video enrages Trump’s base, many of whom are unaware of the debunks or simply do not care, and spurs them to the polls for record turn-out on the right.
Scenario 2 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 2 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 2 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 3
The general election has come down to Pete Buttigieg and Donald Trump. While Trump has enjoyed strong evangelical support, Buttigieg has had difficulty garnering support from evangelicals. He was raised as a Catholic, is now a practicing Episcopalian, and in his campaign, has emphasized his Christian faith. In particular, he has repeatedly mentioned (in support of gay marriage) that his marriage (to a man) has made him a better Christian. Six weeks before the election, the internal polls of the Republican party begin to show that a small but not insignificant portion of evangelicals are moving towards Buttigieg. And then, ten days before the election, a deepfake video appears featuring several testimonials by men who say that they had sex with Mayor Pete while he has been married. A conservatively-aligned Political Action Committee (PAC) made the video and leaked it to a few evangelical groups via posts to their closed members-only Facebook groups using sock-puppet (i.e. fake) accounts. “Wow, look what I found — how can this guy say he’s christian?” reads one of the posts. Several religious leaders from Evangelical and other churches denounce Buttigieg to their congregations and followers.
Scenario 3 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 3 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 3 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 4
Two weeks before the 2020 election, African-American voters throughout Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin receive emails spoofed to seemingly come from their local democratic party. The email addresses each recipient by name and tells them the location of their voting place. It also includes a personalized embedded video in which Reverend Al Sharpton addresses recipients by name and tells them that there have been attempts to undermine the election with false information about polling locations in their state. He encourages voters to use the information provided in the email when they go to vote. However, the video has been synthesized and the location information is bogus. On election day some voters are confused when they arrive to vote but are turned away because they’re at the incorrect location for their voter registration. The source of the deepfake is unknown until after the election when it is traced back to an alt-right group that would like to see Trump re-elected.
Scenario 4 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 4 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 4 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 5
Things are heating up and there’s a lot of competition from a wide group of contenders for the Democratic nomination. Bernie Sanders is campaigning heavily in Iowa and Nevada, two of the earliest primaries to be held, and races he knows he needs to win. A competitor to Sanders resolves to leak synthesized audio of Sanders saying disparaging things about Iowan farmers, calling them “hillbillies and rednecks” to a small group of mexican-american voters he met with in Nevada at a campaign stop. The audio clip gets uploaded onto Tumblr by an anonymous blogger who claims that he wants the world to know about “the real Bernie Sanders” but is worried about retaliation against himself and his family. The clip is picked up and played on several podcasts with followings on the left and right. The Sanders’ campaign is able to produce a complete recording of the purported event in Nevada which proves he never said those things. Major media outlets air debunkings of the clip, but it continues to circulate online and on some smaller podcasts.
Scenario 5 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 5 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 5 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 6
It’s a tight race. Turn out in some key swing districts could make all the difference. Two days before the election, a foreign power unleashes a campaign to suppress certain voter demographics in battleground states. They send spoofed text messages with fake synthesized images to targeted individuals. The message says that if they vote on Tuesday, the attached image depicting the individual participating in a sex orgy with minors will be released publicly online and sent to their friends and family. These images are synthesized using a database of incriminating background scenes with a face swapped using photos of the targeted person scraped from their Facebook page or Instagram account. They are convincing enough to intimidate and coerce some people into not voting. A few individuals contact the police or their phone service provider, but the spoofed messages continue until election day. Since no one knows how many voters may have been affected, the incident undermines public perception of the legitimacy of the election.
Scenario 6 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 6 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 6 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Scenario 7
It’s the morning after the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Biden is basking in the media attention as the clear winner of the exchange when CNN suddenly airs an audio clip of the moderator of the debate which purports to be from an exchange the moderator had with a Biden campaign official before the debate. The clip was engineered by the Trump campaign to discredit Biden’s performance. In the audio the moderator is heard asking about whether “your candidate has any questions about the questions I sent yesterday?” Pundits interpret it as evidence of trying to fix the debate by sharing questions with Biden’s staff beforehand. The moderator, a respected journalist, firmly denies the account, but not before the #riggeddebates hashtag starts trending. Trump amplifies the idea that the debates are rigged to his Twitter following and refuses to participate in subsequent debates which are then cancelled.
Scenario 7 - Plausibility Rating
On a scale from 1 to 5 where 1 is “not plausible” and 5 is “very plausible”, how reasonable is it to believe that this scenario could happen?
Not Plausible
Very Plausible
Scenario 7 - Plausibility Feedback
Please explain your evaluation. What specifically makes the scenario above more or less plausible to you?
Your answer
Scenario 7 - What should be done?
What could be done now by various stakeholders, such as platforms, individuals, journalists / news media, technologists, or policy makers, to prepare for this scenario or make it less likely?
Your answer
Overall Feedback
Please let us know any other feedback you may have on these scenarios. How can we make them better?
Your answer
Contact Info
If you’d like is to follow up with you with future iterations of the project, please feel free to leave your name and contact info.
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