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(News Focus) Anger mounts over deepfake porn targeting Korean female celebs; more than 330,000 sign petition

16:18 January 14, 2021

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, Jan. 14 (Yonhap) -- Following a heated scandal over Luda, a chatbot that ended up being unplugged amid controversies over its hypersexualization and unfiltered comments on sexual minorities, South Korea faces another socio-technological issue on how to tackle artificial intelligence technology that targets real, living celebrities as victims of deepfake porn.

On Wednesday, an anonymous petitioner began an online petition demanding stronger punishment for websites that distribute deepfake porn involving Korean female celebrities and for people who download them.

"Videos featuring the victimized female celebrities are distributed on various social network services, and (they) are tortured with malicious comments of a sexually harassing and insulting nature," the petitioner wrote.

The person mentioned how this often leaves young female celebrities, including those who are underaged, powerlessly exposed to sexual predators. "Deepfake is undeniably a sexual crime," the petitioner stressed.

With unusually swift speed, the petition has earned more than 330,000 signatures in a single day as of Thursday afternoon.

Growing calls urging the government to regulate deepfake porn have spread to Twitter, where fans are actively sharing hashtags such as "deepfake_strong punishment" and "publicize_illegal composite" and reporting names of online spaces or mobile apps where deepfake porn is shared and created.

An illustration depicting deepfake technology (Yonhap)

Deepfake, a portmanteau of "deep learning" and "fake," refers to digital representations, such as videos or images, made via artificial learning or sophisticated technology that could lead viewers to wrongly perceive the processed media to be real.

While there are cases of deepfake being used positively, such as to create digital renderings of deceased family members or celebrities, the controversial technology has often been criticized for being a source of fake news, fraud and defamation.

Naturally, celebrities and politicians whose high-resolution photos are widely circulated across the internet have usually been the biggest victims of deepfakes. But the technology has especially proven to be threatening for female celebrities around the world.

A 2019 report by Amsterdam-based cybersecurity firm Sensity, formerly Deeptrace, showed that a whopping 96 percent of deepfake videos online were pornographic content.

In a comparison of deepfake videos available on deepfake pornography websites and YouTube channels, the report said that 100 percent of those targeted on the former were female, with 99 percent of them being actresses and singers working in the entertainment sector.

"Deepfake pornography is a phenomenon that exclusively targets and harms women. In contrast, the non-pornographic deepfake videos we analyzed on YouTube contained a majority of male subjects," the report said.

K-pop stars were not an exception. In fact, the report showed that 25 percent of those who appeared as subjects in videos on deepfake pornography websites were K-pop singers. While the report did not unveil the names of individuals on privacy concerns, "the second and third most frequently targeted individuals, as well as the most frequently viewed individual, were South Korean K-pop singers," it added.

This screenshot, taken on Jan. 14, 2021, from the presidential office's online petition page, shows the number of signatures collected for a petition demanding stronger punishment for deepfake porn involving Korean female celebrities. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

Photos and videos sexually harassing and misrepresenting female celebrities as well as average individuals are not a new thing here. A number of K-pop singers have been mired in deepfake porn, while the notorious "nth room" case showed that perpetrators used deepfake to create pornography featuring victims and distributed them in mobile group chat rooms.

The social fury surrounding these cases prompted South Korea to approve a revised Act on Special Cases Concerning the Punishment, etc. of Sexual Crimes. Under the revision that went into effect in June, those who are found to have made deepfake videos against the consent of an individual in a way that could prompt sexual desire or insult could face up to five years in jail or a fine of up to 50 million won (US$45,458).

If they are found to have committed the crime for a commercial purpose, the prison term increases to up to seven years.

But despite the revision, calls urging stronger punishment against the technology that is becoming more easy to duplicate and common in everyday life is growing. Organizations, such as the Korean Bar Association, have pointed out how the revision is insufficient to address loopholes in the deepfake porn sector that has grown into a global industry.

"There's a limit in uprooting the sharing of sexually exploitative content or 'insulting acquaintances,' acts that are happening on Telegram and similar platforms, simply through corrective punishment," the organization said in a statement following the law revision. "Insulting acquaintances" is the direct translation of a new form of sexual crime in which perpetrators digitally edit photos of their acquaintances into pornographic photos.

It called for more comprehensive and preemptive legislation that not only includes regulating domestic and overseas internet operators by mandating them to delete such material, but also disclosing and tightening punishment for people who have consumed such videos.

With the petition having earned more than the minimum threshold of 200,000 within 30 days, the presidential office is expected to release an official response on the issue within 30 days.

mlee@yna.co.kr
(END)

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