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Stop It With The Selfies. Really.


A friend of mine and reader of this blog once wrote to tell me about how he and the men in his congregation had to go clean out the apartment of the kindly elderly bachelor who worshiped with them … and found lots of child pornography. They also found thousands of ordinary images of children this creep grabbed off the Internet, from people posting photos of their kids. It shook him up so much that he resolved never, ever to post photos of his kids to social media.

I read a news story last week in which researchers in this field said that parents who post lots of pictures of their kids to social media wouldn’t do it if they knew how those images were used by perverts. I just tried to find that story again, but the Google search for it is too depressing, so I gave up.

Just about everybody I knows posts pictures of their kids to social media, and I rarely tell them about this, because I don’t want to freak them out. But this story finally pushed me over the line: [1]

There’s a video of Gal Gadot having sex with her stepbrother on the internet. But it’s not really Gadot’s body, and it’s barely her own face. It’s an approximation, face-swapped to look like she’s performing in an existing incest-themed porn video.

The video was created with a machine learning algorithm, using easily accessible materials and open-source code that anyone with a working knowledge of deep learning algorithms could put together.

That particular video appears to be the work of only one person, a Redditor who goes by the name “deepfakes.” More:

According to deepfakes—who declined to give his identity to me to avoid public scrutiny—the software is based on multiple open-source libraries, like Keras with TensorFlow backend. To compile the celebrities’ faces, deepfakes said he used Google image search, stock photos, and YouTube videos. Deep learning consists of networks of interconnected nodes that autonomously run computations on input data. In this case, he trained the algorithm on porn videos and Gal Gadot’s face. After enough of this “training,” the nodes arrange themselves to complete a particular task, like convincingly manipulating video on the fly.


Artificial intelligence researcher Alex Champandard told me in an email that a decent, consumer-grade graphics card could process this effect in hours, but a CPU would work just as well, only more slowly, over days.

“This is no longer rocket science,” Champandard said.

The ease with which someone could do this is frightening. Aside from the technical challenge, all someone would need is enough images of your face, and many of us are already creating sprawling databases of our own faces: People around the world uploaded 24 billion selfies to Google Photos in 2015-2016. It isn’t difficult to imagine an amateur programmer running their own algorithm to create a sex tape of someone they want to harass.


Deepfakes told me he’s not a professional researcher, just a programmer with an interest in machine learning.

“I just found a clever way to do face-swap,” he said, referring to his algorithm. “With hundreds of face images, I can easily generate millions of distorted images to train the network,” he said. “After that if I feed the network someone else’s face, the network will think it’s just another distorted image and try to make it look like the training face.”

Read the whole thing. [1]

He needs only “hundreds” of face images of a person. How many photos of yourself have you posted on social media? How many photos of your kids? It’s horrifying enough to imagine your own face being used for one of these fake porn videos. Now imagine some scumbag like the guy in my friend’s congregation using the faces of your children.

UPDATE: Wow, read Alexi Sargeant’s prescient and insightful essay [2] about what CGI and the Frankensteining of the Grand Moff Tarkin may mean for art and democracy. Excerpt:

This technology could potentially turn every public figure who’s been in enough available footage into a puppet like Rogue One’s Grand Moff Tarkin. What will happen when anyone can create a convincing video of the president or any other global leader saying anything and share it online? Is it responsible to perfect and popularize this technology?

Fake news purveyors are not the only ones being done a favor by this new development. It’s not hard to imagine pornographers embracing the endless possibilities of CGI recreation. After all, practically every new technology in the world of communication and entertainment is eventually put to pornographic use, and the desires of porn users surely extend to deceased actors and celebrities. It’s the next logical step after crassly commercial uses of the technology, like bringing back Audrey Hepburn to sell chocolate bars in commercials.

Now, the voraciousness of the porn and advertising industries should not frighten us so much that we never develop any new technology. But it should give us caution as we approach ethical edge cases. Not every end-user of a dubious technology like digital resurrection will operate with the respect and propriety of brand-conscious Disney imagineers.

50 Comments (Open | Close)

50 Comments To "Stop It With The Selfies. Really."

#1 Comment By jamie On December 12, 2017 @ 1:10 am

If you have twenty minutes or so of someones voice recorded, [3]. You type it, and out comes a WAV file of the other person saying it.

#2 Comment By charles cosimano On December 12, 2017 @ 1:21 am

Does this mean Uncle Chuckie will be a porn star? I think I like this stuff.

[NFR: You mean you weren’t already? Chuckie, you surprise me. — RD]

#3 Comment By EngineerScotty On December 12, 2017 @ 1:43 am

Does this mean Uncle Chuckie will be a porn star? I think I like this stuff.

Fortunately, they can digitally replace more than just faces….

#4 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 12, 2017 @ 2:28 am

That Russian pee video of Trump with Moscow prostitutes may yet emerge.

Imagine the scope for creating propaganda this gives for deep fake government agencies with no budget limitations and no scruples. Especially now that the law against deceiving the American public was repealed, so that the CIA is able to mount domestic disinformation campaigns.

#5 Comment By ludo On December 12, 2017 @ 2:34 am

A shilling foretaste of virtual reality technology and what that will, no doubt, allow ‘fetishistic’ artists to do with the stolen photographic images of perfect strangers of all ages!

#6 Comment By ludo On December 12, 2017 @ 2:36 am

That should have read “chilling,” but come to think of it, “shilling” also almost as perversely works.

#7 Comment By charles cosimano On December 12, 2017 @ 2:38 am

“Fortunately, they can digitally replace more than just faces….”

I sure hope so!

#8 Comment By Elijah On December 12, 2017 @ 7:32 am

My worry is people would be flattered to find out they’re “starring” in their own porn. As long as the lighting is flattering, of course.

And I’m only half joking.

#9 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 12, 2017 @ 7:52 am

Finally my social media apathy and a lack of time yields some dividends!

#10 Comment By kevin on the left On December 12, 2017 @ 8:20 am

“Imagine the scope for creating propaganda this gives for deep fake government agencies with no budget limitations and no scruple”

Deep fake government! Can you work “crooked Hillary” into that? Because if so, we’ve ourselves a hit!

#11 Comment By TimG On December 12, 2017 @ 8:22 am

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted my kids’ photos on Facebook, and for a long time I’ve restricted those posts to close family. It’s sort of sad on the one hand but I’m going to protect my kids’ futures.

#12 Comment By Addison Del Mastro On December 12, 2017 @ 8:49 am

Between those YouTube videos for kids and this stuff, honestly the free, open web is looking like a suicide pact.

What do liberal democracies do when technology plus freedom produce social poison like this? Stifling political dissent is one thing, but how do you not look with envy at countries that are able to flip a switch in some control room and say “nope, our population isn’t going to be viewing or doing *this* on the internet”? Damned if I know how to answer that.

#13 Comment By TR On December 12, 2017 @ 8:50 am

My personal experience is that your advice will fall on deaf ears. I never could get my faculty to understand that when they used the university’s e-mail, the contents were the property of the state. And in Florida, that means, any citizen of the state has a right to examine that content.

Okay, faculty are dumb. But so are university presidents. A month or so ago, very embarrassing e-mails were released from the retiring President of the University of Florida and one of his underlings. The contents were about final compensation and showed exactly how venal he was.

#14 Comment By Axxr On December 12, 2017 @ 9:02 am

As a male divorcee who had never posted pictures of my kids to social media, I was told by the court in no uncertain terms that one reason that custody as at risk for me was that I had never done so—and that if I wanted to maintain access to my children, I’d better start and do it all the time, because pictures of my kids on social media was a direct indicator of my level of parental involvement.

Square that circle.

#15 Comment By Seven sleepers On December 12, 2017 @ 9:05 am

An extremely disturbing take on this was done in Episode 1 Season 1 of “Black Mirror”. Warning: it is an *extremely* disturbing show.

Well, I will make a prediction for the willing. Forget porn, this technology will be used to start a big war. It will soon be capable to make any person look like they say anything. Fake news has nothing on what is about to arrive.

We are entering a phase in which believing will NOT be seeing. Understand? To believe will be to NOT see. Anyone who sees, will be lost.

fwiw, I work in this space

#16 Comment By matthew On December 12, 2017 @ 9:06 am

Its funny that you mention this because we just had another conversation with some good friends of ours about this exact thing. They had asked us if they could post a picture they had taken of their children and ours playing at a get together at their house the other day. They know that my wife and I have never (this is true) posted any pictures of ourselves or our children on any social media post. We are in our early 40’s, and almost all of our friends with children seem to be posting pictures of themselves and their children multiple times a day. I have asked my friends many times over the years if they understood that there are way more creeps then they could ever imagine scanning through posts just like theirs of young children, and they just sort of shrugged it off. Like its just part of the price to be paid for being connected with your friends and part of the in crowd on social media. I couldn’t believe their attitude years ago, and today it seems downright negligent. I’ll send this post to them and I’m certain that they will blow it off. So many people my age and younger who have children treat this just the way you have often talked about parents with cell phones. The peer pressure from other parents to not be seen as the odd parents who don’t even post pictures of their kids is too strong. They don’t want to be shunned and possibly not included because they are “those” parents that wont let us take pictures that can be posted on facebook. Oh well. It seems like a pretty small price to pay for me knowing my children’s innocence is going to be intact as they grow up.

#17 Comment By Bowl of Petunias On December 12, 2017 @ 9:06 am

On the other hand, the next time one of these celebrity sex videos gets leaked, they can always say it’s been faked.

#18 Comment By Seven sleepers On December 12, 2017 @ 9:17 am

and btw, I posted links about how pedos use facebook and other sites to get pictures, how they fake accounts, etc. There are endless reports on this. But here is one from the bbc.


#19 Comment By DougW On December 12, 2017 @ 9:24 am

Combined with your post right above this, imagine the political possibilities. Accusations will be even more damning with video. The truth be damned.

#20 Comment By A DC Wonk On December 12, 2017 @ 9:46 am

Folks just need _one_ picture in order to make all kinds of porn with it.

We’re already lost the battle for privacy. GOP legislation (brought to you by those who love large donations from industry, combined with those who worship at the altar of Free Market!!) is helping that along quite nicely.

#21 Comment By Pat On December 12, 2017 @ 9:55 am

Isn’t this just the fake news thing all over again? It looks like something insurmountable, and then when you look closer it sort of dissolves into the general question of when and whether and why you should believe anything posted on the internet.

#22 Comment By Greg Linscott On December 12, 2017 @ 9:55 am

I understand your concern, Rod. But even with all the precautions one might take, the reality is our society has more cameras than we have control over, and really, who knows what is being done with things like basic security footage?

As much damage that could be done with misuse of photos, the reality is that the human heart has always been depraved. Photos have given it one more manifestation, but we cannot completely control how others sin. If someone chooses to privately fantasize in their mind or even record their evil imaginations in a text narrative, what can I do to stop them? Is that any less desirable than manipulated video porn?

There may be some room for propriety. But we cannot let the fear of possible deviants completely limit how we interact with others. Otherwise, we will resign ourselves to complete seclusion. We are all vulnerable. Any society worth living in exposes one to some degree of abuse of trust. It doesn’t justify withdrawal, though.

#23 Comment By James Bradshaw On December 12, 2017 @ 10:31 am

Every day, I find another reason that I have no social media accounts with my real name or likeness.

The few people who actually need or want to know what I’m thinking or doing will know, regardless.

#24 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 12, 2017 @ 11:15 am

Forget porn, forget advances in technology, the proliferation of false statements and attributions is ubiquitous already.

Those of you on Facebook are likely going to see many examples of a photograph of a person in the news, with captioning added. The vast majority of these are unabashed propaganda, and easily proven to be false.

People delight in this. I have a FB acquaintance whose posts are almost all of this ilk. He takes pictures and adds captioning, often intended to be words in the mouth of the person pictured. His intentions are sarcasm and mockery, but we already know that just two or three steps passed down the lane means people seeing it immediately believe that the person pictured said those words. They look plausible, so they must be accurate and true.

Fellow readers, I beg you to look to the wider stain on our society, the notion that seeing is believing. We are long past any immediate remedy. It falls on each of us to challenge such things harshly and bluntly.

#25 Comment By KyleW On December 12, 2017 @ 11:54 am

And its not like its just selfies. Even normal family photos or vacation photos, things any typical person wouldn’t and shouldn’t have to think twice about, could be just as susceptible to this. Ugggh. Accuse me of a Golden Age mentality all you want, progressive friends, tell me I’m imagining the decadence of modern society. We used to be able to share pictures with people we knew without worrying about…this. Also, doesn’t it speak volumes that the phrase, “existing incest-themed porn video,” could be tossed off like it’s just the most mundane detail. And so many of us stand gormlessly around like we don’t know where Harvey Weinstein comes from…

#26 Comment By Elijah On December 12, 2017 @ 12:05 pm

“Fellow readers, I beg you to look to the wider stain on our society, the notion that seeing is believing. We are long past any immediate remedy. It falls on each of us to challenge such things harshly and bluntly.”

Sometimes I am awfully critical of my friend Franklin, but this is so very important. I have friends – both very progressive and very conservative – who will “share” the most ridiculous, completely false, and embarrassing stuff on FB without spending even a second wondering if it’s true.

I have even gently called some people out on it and they’ll admit that at least half the time, they haven’t even read it.


#27 Comment By Lord Karth On December 12, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

Where’s an EMP when you really need one ?

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#28 Comment By Dave On December 12, 2017 @ 12:46 pm

Social Media is made out of people.

#29 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 12, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

Elijah, I am honored to have your acquaintance in this limited forum, and I hope someday to make that a true, personal connection. Perhaps in St. Francisville this year..?

Disclosure: I’ve expressed my ire to some FB “friends”, and “knucklehead” is not even on the list of terms I’ve used. Ahem.

#30 Comment By Hound of Ulster On December 12, 2017 @ 1:51 pm

Capitalism in action.

You were warned, but didn’t listen.

[NFR: I will never, ever understand how you are so willfully blind to the fact that the total surveillance state was reality under Communism. — RD]

#31 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 12, 2017 @ 2:14 pm

Kevin on the left:

You’re the one obsessed with working the former nominee into everything.

That said, do you really think she was on the left?

However, it does seem the dodgy dossier originated with her campaign, which means you were right after all.

Don’t you agree with famed journalist I.F. Stone, “that all governments lie”? Or do you think that is that just when they’re not following your politics?

Left, right, left, right … The same goose step march requiring nothing more than a brain stem below the cranium, as Einstein put it.

#32 Comment By Ben H On December 12, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

Is there demand for incest related videos or are the monsters that excrete this sort of garbage putting that theme out there to warp minds even further?

#33 Comment By Conewago On December 12, 2017 @ 2:38 pm

Savanarola shouldn’t have ignored the Pope’s order to come to Rome, but by gosh he was right about everything else.

“SAVONAROLA is a man whom we shall probably never understand until we know what horror may lie at the heart of civilisation. This we shall not know until we are civilised. It may be hoped, in one sense, that we may never understand Savonarola.”

Welcome to “civilisation”?



#34 Comment By Alex Brown On December 12, 2017 @ 2:56 pm

I’m surprised that you’re surprised, Rod. The tech to swap faces is decades old. I recall a French movie from the 80s or even 70s where photographer swapped politician’s wife face on a photo to cause a sex scandal (as it was a crime story, they guy was killed. That movie name eludes me). Obviously with digital tech it is much easier, even with basic photo apps.
Google photos app is password protected, so – theoretically – your face is not in the public domain. But again, there are pinhole cameras and cheap flash storage available for years, so even now you can’t be sure that someone isn’t recording in real time.
Smile, just in case…

#35 Comment By jamie On December 12, 2017 @ 3:56 pm

Don’t you agree with famed journalist I.F. Stone, “that all governments lie”? Or do you think that is that just when they’re not following your politics?

When you think everything is a lie, that’s when the propaganda really starts to be effective.

This is all really easily solved: simply never accept a video or audio recording as valid unless it’s attested to be true under someone’s name and supplements their written account of events.

A video with no context or attribution today is nothing more than innuendo. James O’Keefe has proved a merely deceptively-edited video, without any fancy tricks, can effectively propagandize presidential candidates and senators as long as there’s some motivated reasoning to statt from.

At this point who needs to propagandize the masses when someone with the wisdom of Donald Trump is president and has access to Youtube?

#36 Comment By KD On December 12, 2017 @ 4:38 pm

This is great.

I guess we can expect to the “real” Trump Pee-Pee Russia tape soon. You got to imagine the Deep State folks are going to be on the cutting edge of this technology. Maybe they’ll release a tape of Roy Moore molesting girls back in the 70’s as well.

#37 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 12, 2017 @ 4:55 pm

NFR: I will never, ever understand how you are so willfully blind to the fact that the total surveillance state was reality under Communism. — RD

Oh, come on Rod. You once told your parents you were a socialist. You once coordinated an appearance by Abby Hoffman at a Louisiana campus. I know, you consider that an embarrassing episode of your callow youth, but, did you really do either one because you were in love with total surveillance police states?

Its true, the major communist party run states to date have been total surveillance police states. That doesn’t in any way mean that what is being discussed here is not “capitalism in action.”

As Hector often and rightly reminds us, when the iron curtain fell, people in eastern Europe learned that while the communists had lied to them about socialism, they were telling the truth about capitalism.

#38 Comment By JonF On December 12, 2017 @ 4:57 pm

Public surveillance camera footage is usually black and white, and generally of low quality. I doubt anyone is going to be using the footage for this sort of thing.

#39 Comment By TA On December 12, 2017 @ 5:33 pm

He needs only “hundreds” of face images of a person. How many photos of yourself have you posted on social media?

This doesn’t matter, though possibly not why you think.

At the rate this sort of technology is advancing, things that take a hundred photos today will only need a couple of photos in a handful of years.

How many people have a couple pictures of you or your children? What about when you include showing up in the background of other people’s pictures? (e.g. other tourists capturing you when you were in DC by accident) Facial recognition technology will mean that Google image searches will start to pop up pictures of you and your kids even if they are just incidental background.

In the end, having a single image available will be little different from having hundreds as far as this technology is concerned. And we will all have at least one.

Keeping a low social media profile will help in that you will be less likely to be noticed by random people. However, the creep at your church who wants to make child porn of the church kids? One snapshot from the church picnic will be enough for that in a few years.

#40 Comment By Pat On December 12, 2017 @ 6:19 pm

Elijah and Franklin ftw!

Last week i complained on Facebook that my major role on Facebook appeared to be googling things other folks posted and reporting the results. My friends agreed. At least they said it was a useful role.

#41 Comment By Dale McNamee On December 12, 2017 @ 8:45 pm

Anybody surprised that things like this happens in our self-absorbed,”15 minutes of Fame” culture ?

Also, there’s always the questions of :”What did you really see ?” or “Did you see what someone wanted you to see ?”

Just think about the “cop shooting black man” videos that never seem to show what led to the shooting…

And think of what is uploaded at “World Star Hip-hop”…

I have never taken a “selfie” because they are too silly for me and I have very few photos taken otherwise… I never felt the need to…

I’m a cultural “drop out”…

#42 Comment By Ellimist000 On December 12, 2017 @ 9:26 pm

“I will never, ever understand how you are so willfully blind to the fact that the total surveillance state was reality under Communism.”

Two entirely different things. And even if they weren’t, that hardly negates Ulster’s comment. Is one incompetent all seeing eye accountable to at least some people better than a million all seeing eyes accountable to no one?

Please join is in this century Rod, Communism! is not the only answer to modern capitalism

#43 Comment By VikingLS On December 12, 2017 @ 9:45 pm

“As Hector often and rightly reminds us, when the iron curtain fell, people in eastern Europe learned that while the communists had lied to them about socialism, they were telling the truth about capitalism.”

LOL, tell an Estonian that.

#44 Comment By VikingLS On December 12, 2017 @ 9:58 pm

“Capitalism in action.”

Well the net is a state creation, the hardware was indeed developed by capitalists, and the software was put together by what might be called distributists, if not simply volunteers, there’s a lot of blame to spread around.

“You were warned, but didn’t listen.”

No, I’m afraid you are going to need to clarify this. Who warned whom about what? Somebody warned us that people were going to generate a program to integrate pictures people post online into porn videos?

#45 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 13, 2017 @ 1:26 am

Rod, total surveillance is what the communist state aspired to, but never achieved. Solzhenitsyn’s The First Circle has scientists pooled from GULAG exile forced to work on Stalin’s wet dream in the luxury of prison dachas. The object was for Stalin to be able to enter anyone’s number in a machine and immediately be connected to hear whatever conversation was taking place, anywhere in the Soviet empire.

It was left to the United States to actually achieve this demonic goal, far beyond Stalin’s imagination in both scope and geographical reach.

There is no good end that justifies these means. The means are precisely the ends.

#46 Comment By Fran Macadam On December 13, 2017 @ 1:31 am

An achievement, I might add, developed against the express vote of congress and without either accountability to or assent from the citizens of the country.

Because they speak in English, without bad Boris and Natasha accents, we think it can’t possibly be as bad as it really is going to be.

#47 Comment By jamie On December 13, 2017 @ 1:45 am


Who warned whom about what?

Marx warned us that the telos of capitalism was the transformation of human nature and the vital spirit into a meaningless commodity.

#48 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On December 13, 2017 @ 10:03 am

Actually we can blame the Hawaiians for the Internet:


Their work influenced the development of Ethernet, and the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) developed by Robert E. Kahn and Vint Cerf later in the 1970s.

#49 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On December 13, 2017 @ 9:33 pm

Last week i complained on Facebook that my major role on Facebook appeared to be googling things other folks posted and reporting the results.

I do a lot of that. And friends who bought the original post at face value actually appreciate the perspective I dredge up.

#50 Comment By Franklin Evans On December 14, 2017 @ 10:38 am

Pat and Siarlys: You are clearly better people than I am. I refuse to do their searching and thinking for them, and I don’t hesitate to say that to them in harsh terms.