Taylor Swift nudes: Local expert weighs in on dangers of deepfakes

When users searched for Swift on X, they received a message saying ‘Something went wrong. Try reloading.’ Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

When users searched for Swift on X, they received a message saying ‘Something went wrong. Try reloading.’ Picture: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Published Jan 30, 2024


By Anna Collard

Social media platform X has stopped people from searching for Taylor Swift due to explicit AI-generated pictures of the singer circulating on the site.

According to X’s head of business operations, Joe Benarroch, this is a temporary measure to prioritise the singer’s safety.

When users searched for Swift on X, they received a message saying “Something went wrong. Try reloading.”

The fake images of the singer gained widespread attention earlier last week, going viral and being viewed millions of times. This caused concern among US officials and the singer’s fans.

Because of this, X, previously known as Twitter, released a statement stating that they strictly prohibit posting non-consensual nudity on the platform.

It also mentioned that they have a zero-tolerance policy towards such content, and their teams are actively removing all identified images and taking appropriate actions against the accounts responsible for posting them.

Apart from abusing these platforms such as in the case of creating deepfake pornographic images of Taylor Swift, these tools can also increase the effectiveness of phishing and business email compromise (BEC) attacks, when used to impersonate people we know.

These deepfake platforms can create civil and societal unrest when used to spread mis- or dis-information in political and election campaigns, and is definitely a dangerous element in modern digital society.

This is cause for concern and asks for more awareness and understanding among the public and policymakers, especially now with important elections coming up in South Africa and the USA.

As an example of this being in use already, between December 8, 2023 and January 8, 2024, about 100+ deepfake video advertisements were identified impersonating the British prime minister Rishi Sunak on Meta, many of which eliciting emotional responses.

The potential of deepfakes driving disinformation to disrupt democratic processes, tarnish reputations, and incite public unrest cannot be underestimated.

In a recent survey undertaken by KnowBe4 across 800 employees aged 18-54 in Mauritius, Egypt, Botswana, South Africa and Kenya, 74 percent of respondents said that they had believed a communication via email or direct message, or a photo or video, was true when, in fact, it was a deepfake.

Considering how deepfake technology uses both machine learning and AI to manipulate data and imagery using real-world images and information, it is easy to see how they were tricked.

The problem is, awareness of deepfakes and how they work is very low in Africa and this puts users at risk.

It is crucial that we have more education and awareness training.

These are the only tools that will help users to understand the risks and recognise the red flags when it comes to faked photo and video content.

They should also be trained to understand that they should not believe everything they see and should not act on any unusual instructions without first confirming they are legitimate.

* Anna Collard is SVP Content Strategy & Evangelist at KnowBe4 AFRICA

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL