Deepfakes: A New Front in Pornography’s Propaganda War on Women

The rise of the deepfake is contributing to a growing message emerging from pornography that every woman is an object for the purposes of satisfying male desire.

Pornography as propaganda was an argument made by Andrea Dworkin in her 1981 work Pornography: Men Possessing Women. Propaganda is messaging that is used to promote an agenda by influencing the audience. Pornography objectifies women which promotes the agenda of the exploitation of women as a resource and the dominance of the male over the female in the structural hierarchy. When women complain about being paid less than men, having their opinions valued less than men’s, women’s health being less researched than men’s, low rape prosecution and conviction, for example, it is this structure and culture we are complaining about. Pornography spreads, naturalises and upholds this structural system of female submission and male entitlement, of inequality.

Pornography is ideology: images and videos which dictate men and women’s place in the world, their value and worth, and threatens each female with ‘we can do this to you too’. Indeed, a new website ‘boasts that it developed its own “state of the art” deep-learning image translation algorithms to “nudify” female bodies, and that the technology is so powerful there is not a woman in the world, regardless of race or nationality, who is safe from being “nudified.” But it doesn’t work on men.1 Jesselyn Cook has reported that this new site has amassed more than 38 million hits since the start of this year, and has become an open secret in misogynist corners of the web’.2 Bhagyasri Chaudhury has outlined how the AI tool that generates deepfake nudes of women received 5M hits in June alone.3 All that is required is a photograph of the woman, something as innocuous as a high school year book picture or a Facebook profile photo, and men can create a new reality of humiliation and violation for their chosen target. We have seen the ‘My Life Is Not Your Porn’ movement by women in South Korea protesting the use of spy cameras by men to turn, for example, women’s biological need to go to the toilet into pornography.4 News reports detail how ‘South Korea’s epidemic of online sexual abuse has left survivors traumatised for life, and is adversely affecting all women and girls in the country’.5 From increased suicide rates amongst women to women losing their jobs, many men’s desire to sexually objectify and violate the female is ruining lives.

This is starting early in the UK. For example, many school heads are telling girls as young as four to wear ‘modesty shorts’ to protect them from ‘upskirting’, when intrusive videos and images are taken under a girl or woman’s clothing without her consent in an attempt to view her genitals.6 Simon Bailey, ‘chief constable of Norfolk and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, has lent his support to the idea of wearing modesty shorts, although he added the policy should be introduced in conjunction with tackling misogyny and sexual harassment across wider society’.7 ‘Upskirting’ is a way for males to control space and who gets to enter it as well as reminding girls and women that they exist as objects for male sexual titillation.

There is a sexual abuse epidemic in UK Schools, highlighted by the website ‘Everyone’s Invited’ which shared anonymous testimony of over fifty thousand girls.8 The Ofsted emergency review of the situation in 2021 stated that ‘the prevalence of children and young people seeing explicit material they do not want to see and being pressured to send ‘nudes’ is a much wider problem than schools can address. While they can play their part, it is not only their responsibility to solve it. The government will need to tackle this issue through the Online Safety Bill, and other interventions’.9 79% of the girls aged over 13 which Ofsted spoke to reported that they had experienced sexual assault at school.10 Despite this, Ofsted obscures that this is male violence against girls with the term ‘peer-on-peer’. The End Violence Against Women Coalition has been raising the sexual abuse of girls at school for years. They reported in 2017 how the ‘inquiry by the Women and Equalities Select Committee laid out the devastating extent to which girls experience sexual violence and harassment in schools: 5,500 sexual offences were recorded in UK schools over a three-year period, including 600 rapes’.11 Research by the British Board of Film Classification has found that the ‘Majority of young people’s first time watching pornography was accidental, with over 60% of children 11-13 who had seen pornography saying their viewing of pornography is unintentional’ and that frequently children viewed pornography as young as seven or eight years old.12 This is having a severe cultural impact and fostering the sexual objectification of girls and women.

These boys who have consumed porn and its messages since childhood grow up into young men. We are seeing the devastating results of porn culture and the sexual objectification of women and girls as the abuse of women has become social currency amongst a significant proportion of men. For example, the new deepfake website, Deepsukebe, has ‘an ‘incentive programme’ that compensates people [men]who share links to their deepfakes. Users [men]that receive enough clicks on their images can ‘nudify’ more images faster… Users [men]can also pay a monthly fee in cryptocurrency to get around the two-hour photo limit.13 Rapidly hundreds of Reddit threads appeared which had ‘been created expressly for people to share and click on each other’s links. “Help me and I’ll help you,” one poster recently begged. “Want to see your friend naked?” another offered. “You’re welcome boys,” a third wrote’14

This male bonding over the sexual abuse of women and girls doesn’t just exist on the internet but men feel entitled and enabled to express such views in public. For example, on 7th August 2021 Carly Wilton posted an account of a conversation by a group of men which she had overheard at her local pub on Friday evening which disturbed her. She claimed that

‘This was their conversation, as close to verbatim as I can remember:

“They put too much crap on there. Why do I care if you have A Levels? I wanna know if you know how to suck dick. If you ain’t gonna swallow I ain’t interested.”

“Exactly. I just wanna know if you fuck or not.” “We should find one who will. No messing about, they will all fuck for money” “Yeah. But it needs to be cheap. Like find the cheapest one, like a tenner or something”
“Yeah and when she’s there and you’ve fucked her once tell her you ain’t paying for it cos she’s a slut.” They we’re all laughing at this point. “Yeah and we should film her. When she’s shouting ‘No, I don’t want to.’ Fuck her again.” “Yeah. We should all have a go”.

15

Ms Wilton contextualised the conversation describing how ‘This was really loud. In a pretty busy pub at 6:30 on a Friday night. They obviously didn’t care who heard them talking about gang raping a woman they picked up on a dating app and filming themselves doing it’.16 Ms Wilton asked, ‘Is this where we’ve got to now? That this is normalised behaviour?’.17 It appears it is. In a different part of the country, ‘Devon and Cornwall Police are investigating the credibility of a WhatsApp group which it is claimed has been promoting a so-called ‘Rape Day’ on April 24… there are claims that a similar group on the social media platform Tik Tok had a hundred plus members from all over the world’.18 Whether the men genuinely intended to rape women or not it is significant that the idea of raping women is what they bond over, what entertains them and what they joke about. This is the porn era, this is the influence of pornography and 24 hour access to the sexualised abuse of women and girls for male entertainment.

These men were not unique, young boys and men bonding over rape ‘fantasies’ and the degradation of women is depressingly common, so much so that it sometimes makes the news. The BBC reported how at Warwickshire University a group chat was discovered with messages that read “Rape the whole flat to teach them a lesson,” and “Oh god. I would hate to be in the firing line if I had a vagina,”.19 These came to the attention of the university because ‘Anna – not her real name – was scrolling through hundreds of sexually violent messages on a Facebook group chat…To her horror, she and her female university friends were mentioned dozens of times. The men writing the messages were – like Anna – studying humanities at Warwick University. But they weren’t just her coursemates. They were her close friends’.20 Anna described how in one section of the chat, talking about a fellow student, ‘they were talking about abducting her, chaining her to the bed, making her urinate on herself, and then sleep in it’. 21 Similarly, in 2020 the University of Derby suspended six male students, including two special constables, over “degrading and offensive” comments, including a rape joke, allegedly made about their female peers in an online group chat.22 Five months later Durham University was investigating a student group chat in which males ‘discussed a competition for “posh lads” to have sex with the “poorest” girl on campus and talked about rape’.23 These are just the chats which are being leaked and reported. The focus on class alongside sex in determining who should experience sexual violence and who the males are entitled to use is suggestive that alongside the influence of porn this male bonding dialogue is designed to demarcate who they feel a university education is for and women’s place in society.

The new deepfake AI extends the message of pornography: this is what women are for, this is their place in the world. Deepfakes, hidden cameras and upskirting has made every woman and girl a potential target. This is psychological violence against women as a sex class. The sexual abuse of women and girls has become a social currency amongst a significant number of men. They bond over actual and imagined violations of women, the thought of degrading us has become a lark for them. But perhaps more than a joke, on some level they recognise that sexual violence is a means to prop up male power and entitlement. Was the proposed lesson to be taught to females through rape by male students at Warwick University that women should not come into further education as equals to men? That women’s minds are of no value and it is not our place? It feels like a renewed era of male sexual violence against women is being used to push us back and punish us for the gains which have been made. These men and boys are learning this message through pornography and the culture this has created.

  1. J. Cook, ‘A Powerful New Deepfake Tool Has Digitally Undressed Thousands Of Women’, HuffPost (11 August 2021), https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/deepfake-tool-nudify-women_n_6112d765e4b005ed49053822?ri18n=true
  2. J. Cook, ‘A Powerful New Deepfake Tool Has Digitally Undressed Thousands Of Women’, HuffPost (11 August 2021), https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/deepfake-tool-nudify-women_n_6112d765e4b005ed49053822?ri18n=true
  3. B. Chaudhury, ‘What is Deepsukebe? AI tool that generates deepfake nudes of women gets 5M hits in June’, MEAWW (11 August 2021),https://meaww.com/what-is-deepsukebe-new-ai-tool-can-digitally-undress-any-woman-make-mens-dreams-come-true
  4. H. Kim, ‘“My Life is Not Your Porn”: Digital Sex Crimes in South Korea’ (16 June 2021), https://www.hrw.org/report/2021/06/16/my-life-not-your-porn/digital-sex-crimes-south-korea
  5. J. McCurry, ‘Online sex crimes crisis in South Korea affecting all women, report finds’, The Guardian (16 June 2021), https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/16/online-sex-crimes-crisis-in-south-korea-affecting-all-women-report-finds
  6. S. Miller, ‘Leading child protection officer backs school heads telling girls as young as FOUR to wear ‘modesty shorts’ to protect them from ‘upskirting’ – but parents say policy is ‘body-shaming’, Daily Mail (6 June 2021), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9656777/Primary-schools-tell-girls-aged-FOUR-wear-modesty-shorts-amid-accusations-body-shaming.html
  7. S. Miller, ‘Leading child protection officer backs school heads telling girls as young as FOUR to wear ‘modesty shorts’ to protect them from ‘upskirting’ – but parents say policy is ‘body-shaming’, Daily Mail (6 June 2021), https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9656777/Primary-schools-tell-girls-aged-FOUR-wear-modesty-shorts-amid-accusations-body-shaming.html
  8. Everyone’s Invited, www.everyonesinvited.uk/
  9. Ofsted, ‘Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges’ (10 June 2021), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges
  10. Ofsted, ‘Review of sexual abuse in schools and colleges’ (10 June 2021), https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges/review-of-sexual-abuse-in-schools-and-colleges
  11. ‘Government too slow to respond to rapes and sexual assaults in schools’, EVAW (9 October 2017), https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/government-too-slow-to-respond-to-rapes-and-sexual-assaults-in-schools/
  12. ‘Children see pornography as young as seven, new report find’, BBFC (26 September 2019), https://www.bbfc.co.uk/about-us/news/children-see-pornography-as-young-as-seven-new-report-finds
  13. B. Chaudhury, ‘What is Deepsukebe? AI tool that generates deepfake nudes of women gets 5M hits in June’, MEAWW (11 August 2021), https://meaww.com/what-is-deepsukebe-new-ai-tool-can-digitally-undress-any-woman-make-mens-dreams-come-true
  14. J. Cook, ‘A Powerful New Deepfake Tool Has Digitally Undressed Thousands Of Women’, HuffPost (11 August 2021), https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/deepfake-tool-nudify-women_n_6112d765e4b005ed49053822?ri18n=true
  15. C. Wilton, @Liath74, Twitter Thread (10:11pm, August 7, 2021), https://twitter.com/Liath74/status/1424115924068716547
  16. C. Wilton, @Liath74, Twitter Thread (10:11pm, August 7, 2021), https://twitter.com/Liath74/status/1424115942322319363
  17. C. Wilton, @Liath74, Twitter Thread (10:11pm, August 7, 2021), https://twitter.com/Liath74/status/1424115942322319363
  18. P. Armstrong, ‘’Rape Day’ WhatsApp group Falmouth investigated by Cornwall police’, The Packet (19 April 2021), https://www.falmouthpacket.co.uk/news/19243375.rape-day-app-group-falmouth-investigated-police/
  19. D. Lee & L. Kennelly,’ Inside the Warwick University rape chat scandal’, BBC News (28 May 2019), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48366835
  20. D. Lee & L. Kennelly,’ Inside the Warwick University rape chat scandal’, BBC News (28 May 2019), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48366835
  21. D. Lee & L. Kennelly,’ Inside the Warwick University rape chat scandal’, BBC News (28 May 2019), https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-48366835
  22. D. Batty, ‘University of Derby suspends students over offensive group chat’, The Guardian (19 April 2020), https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/apr/19/university-of-derby-suspends-students-over-offensive-group-chat
  23. C. Kitching, ‘Uni freshers ‘compete to have sex with poorest student and joke about taking ketamine’, The Mirror (9 September 2020), https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/uni-freshers-compete-sex-poorest-22652484

2 Comments

  1. This is simultaneously frightening and depressing but an
    excellent article. We need to know that this is happening so
    that we can start fighting it. Why do men hate us so much?

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