Deepfake porn wreck lives, but as one woman discovered, it takes seconds to make

Scrolling through her phone in 2020, Kate Isaacs opened up her Twitter to see a post that consumed her with sheer terror.

Someone had publicly tweeted an explicit video of what looked like her having sex.

With no recollection of ever being recorded in that situation, she felt confused, struck with fear and dread. 

‘This panic just washed over me,’ Kate says. ‘I couldn’t think clearly in that moment. I remember just feeling like this video is going to go everywhere. Your mind goes into absolute overdrive: “But when was that, who am I having sex with, I don’t remember, I don’t think I consented to this.”

‘It’s really, really scary to watch, because you’re thinking, “Oh my god, that’s me, I’m in a porn video and everyone’s going to see – my employers, my grandmother, my friends.” You feel vulnerable, because your body is out there, but you have a complete lack of memory of being filmed.’

After her initial shock, Kate began to realise something even more disturbing – while it was her face in the video, the body it was attached to wasn’t her own. The 30-year-old campaigner had become a victim of deepfake pornography.

On the surface, deepfake technology – a kind of AI – can be used to whimsically enjoy social media trends, as original images or videos are merged with something else to create a different reality. It has been used to create viral clips, such as Channel 4’s alternative ‘Queen’s Christmas message’ in 2020, which saw our late monarch perform a TikTok dance; and even SnapChat’s gender-swap filter.

But more sinisterly, this technology has also been used to fabricate fake news and financial fraud – and even child, revenge and deepfake pornography.

Perpetrators take an image or video from already-existing adult content, and morph it with the face of someone else – meaning that they are not only synthetically creating explicit, non-consensual material of a person, but they are also stealing footage from sex workers. According to statistics from Queen Mary University of London, 96% of these deep fakes are of a pornographic nature, and, unsurprisingly, almost all of them are of women.

‘Research conducted in 2018 by fraud detection company Sensity AI predicted that the number would double every six months,’ journalist Jennifer Savin, who has been covering this trend for around four years, explained last month. ‘Fast forward four years and that prophecy has come true and then some. There are over 57 million hits for “deepfake porn” on Google alone [at the time of writing]. Search interest has increased 31% in the past year and shows no signs of slowing.’

Kate believes that she was targeted due to the incredible work she had achieved two years earlier with her hugely successful #NotYourPorn movement, which was successful in the removal of 10 million non-consenual and child pornogrophy videos on adult platform Pornhub. 

‘The premise was like, “Anti-porn crusader Kate Isaacs: the real reason she wants to get rid of this content is because she’s in a tape herself and she’s trying to get rid of it, she regrets it.” It was really scary and horrible,’ she says.

‘It’s so awful, because I did expect to be targeted – there was definitely a feeling of fear going into the campaign, and before I went on TV for the first time, I went through my phone and deleted any pictures that could be used against me. But I don’t think I prepared myself for being made into a porn video, because as far as I was concerned, a video like that didn’t necessarily exist. All of those things they tell you not to do –  which is total victim blaming – don’t matter anymore, because anyone can make one of these images or videos.

‘I did clock that it wasn’t me when I watched it more carefully, but it didn’t take away from the initial shock and adrenaline – and even though I knew that it wasn’t my body, no one else did. It was as if the creators had decided to completely take my power away, and there was actually nothing I could have done that could have prevented that from happening. They just weaponised it.’

Even more shockingly, the perpetrators then found Kate’s work and home addresses and posted them online.

She adds: ‘I was getting threats like they were going to follow me home while it was dark, and that they were going to rape me, film it and upload it to the Internet.

‘It was an attack on me in a way that they felt ‘fit my crime’: “You’ve taken something that we love, or you have messed with a system that we have enjoyed and benefited from, so we are going to punish you in a way that reflects that – we’re going to put you into a porn video, may that be through deepfaking or physically raping you.”

‘I felt so incredibly vulnerable and I didn’t want to go out – I would have my then-partner pick me up from the gym because I didn’t want to walk the five-minute journey home in the dark. That threat against you is just terrifying. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through.’

Now, in a new BBC3 documentary titled Deepfake Porn: Could You Be Next?, journalist Jess Davies deep dives into just how easy it is to create this kind of content, speaks to some of the women, like Kate, who have been affected – and interviews the men responsible for making these fake images and videos.

Jess, a former glamour model, fell victim to her images being stolen and sold through online eWhoring forums. But after keeping an eye on where her content was on the web, and also looking out for that of her friends in the industry, she noticed that this new trend was gaining popularity.  

‘I was seeing threads come up requesting deepfakes and deep nudes – where, using online technology that doesn’t work on men at the moment, you can remove a woman’s clothes and create a nude image of them with one click,’ she explains. ‘It was another visual, image-based sexual abuse. At least I knew that my images existed – with deepfaking, you haven’t even got a say. They make the porn anyway, and you can’t do anything about it.’

I don’t really feel that consent is required – it’s a fantasy, it’s not real

Within the documentary, Jess, 29, speaks to two of the perpetrators creating and facilitating this graphic content – ‘Gorkem’, who makes the images and videos for clients, and ‘MrDeepFakes’, whose website of the same name garners 13 million visitors every month and has nearly 250,000 members.

‘I can see how some women would have psychological harm from this, but on the other hand, they can just say, “It’s not me, this has been faked, I can’t suffer any damages from this,”’ says Gorkem. ‘I think they should just recognise that and get on with their day.’

Callously, he adds that if there was a chance he could be traced online, then he would stop and ‘get a new hobby’.

Mr Deepfakes agrees: ‘I think that as long as you’re not trying to pass it off as a real thing, that should really matter because it’s basically fake. I don’t really feel that consent is required – it’s a fantasy, it’s not real.’

However, Kate disagrees.

‘That is probably one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard,’ she says. ‘I don’t know what world he’s living in, if he’s able to create these things and think that it doesn’t have any impact on someone’s reputation. 

‘It’s incredibly frustrating because I feel like there’s definitely a weird separation of “the virtual world” and “the real world”, and that isn’t where we live anymore. We’re not going into our Internet browsers via dial up – every single element of our lives is integrated online.

‘Unfortunately, we live in a society where women are often slut-shamed, and if a woman’s nudes get leaked or they are filmed in a compromising position, they can lose their job. So to take someone’s identity, and manufacture it into something in order to make money without their consent is still sexual violence. It’s a way of reducing women down to something less, to make us more inferior to men.’

Back in 2017, deepfakes of celebrities began appearing in chatrooms such as Reddit – where users would pervert red-carpet photos or social media images – and stars such as Zendaya, Billie Eilish and Scarlett Johansson are still popular on the explicit websites.

But in a world where we’re now used to posting selfies or front-facing videos on apps such as Instagram and TikTok – or even taking part in Zoom meetings when working from home – the ‘everyday woman’ is more at risk than ever of being deepfaked.

The shocking reality is that technology has advanced at such a rapid pace that people can now make a deepfake image almost immediately. And even if they’re unsure of how to begin, the forums are full of guidance on how to navigate the tech yourself.

Readily available apps such as FaceMagic can create a deepfake in less than a minute – and in her documentary, Jess actually makes a clip of herself in around eight seconds.

‘You don’t need a whole folder of different angles, you just upload one photo and you can make a deepfake porn video in seconds. They might not look the most realistic, but it’s still enough to feel the shame and humiliation,’ she says. ‘That’s what is really scary, this technology is technically in the hands of everyone who’s got a smartphone – FaceMagic is on the Apple App Store for ages 12 and above, so if you can access it if you’re in Year Seven.’

If users feel unconfident in using the software themselves, then they can simply contact people, like Gorkem, for a custom request.

One case study Jess also speaks to is Dina, who discovered that deepfake, graphic images of her had been commissioned by a close friend at work – a married man, who she described as ‘someone I really respected’ and ‘such a nice, good guy’.

‘In society, we like to think that the men doing these things are in their mum’s basement, weirdos that don’t have a life and are very isolated. The feeling of, “They’re just incels,”’ says Jess. ‘But actually these are normal, family men, who post images of their daughters, wives, sisters or aunts, and then they go and sit around the dinner table with them or they go out with them. For me, that’s what’s really shocking.’

Kate adds: ‘Working on the campaign and looking at these different kinds of mainstream porn websites, I would roughly estimate that probably around 60% of content is something that appears to be non-consensual. Whether that is a woman who is appearing as a girl in a school uniform or rape fantasies, the entire industry has so many categories that fantasise women being made to do something that they have not agreed to in varying degrees, and deepfaking is just another manifestation of that.

“If Dina’s colleague believed that he was able to have sex with her, he probably wouldn’t have requested the commission – but because he wanted to fantasise about her in the most real way possible, he was able to do that without her consent. And because there’s no real law around it, it’s a perfectly legal way to be able to.’

That’s because no UK law directly references the practice of deepfaking – something described as a ‘grey area’.

So what do Jess and Kate feel can be done to stop the perpetrators?

‘When we spoke to Gorkem and Mr DeepFakes, they said that if this was illegal, they would abide by the law, so that would act as a deterrent,’ explains Jess. ‘But the Online Safety Bill is already out of date – it’s been trying to go through Parliament for about four years now and it talks a lot about Facebook, which young people aren’t using anymore. To try and keep up with the technology and how fast it’s developing is just impossible.

‘While it would help victims to know that they can report their cases, and hopefully the police can then get more funding to tackle the perpetrators, I think it’s definitely a societal issue.

‘There’s millions of people who are accessing this content and actively participating in these forums, and adding really graphic and sexual comments, or placing people they know in really disturbing scenes and then encouraging others to send these images to the girls on Instagram. They’re out there wanting to actively cause distress and harm. Why are there so many men out there who think that it’s okay to treat and view women as objects?’

Kate continues: ‘If we want to move forward and protect people from this kind of crime, we need to examine the legislation system in our country, because the systems that we have in place for technology are just not fit for purpose,’ she says. ‘It can’t take five years to do a review and then act on it, because it’s going to be out of date.

‘From a campaigner perspective and as someone who’s gone through this as a victim, we need to regulate these industries. The fact that there are apps available that are very legal, or that porn websites can post or view or share your content without your consent is a massive problem. The issue is that us Brits are so prudish, we don’t want to have that conversation in Parliament, but burying our heads in the sand is obviously not working. We need to reform the kind of attitudes that we have around those types of websites and sexual violence and sexual content online.’

‘This is predominantly a male on female crime, and it’s being used as a form of sexual violence,’ she adds. ‘It’s not a physical rape but that doesn’t mean it’s not a form of sexual violence, that it’s not damaging just because it’s existing on the web.’

Despite the horrific threats she has faced, Kate has decided to continue with her brilliant campaign. Jess also refuses to keep quiet on the issue, even though she has had similar comments made online, too.

‘The threats do sit with you, and they have made me worried about my safety,’ she says. ‘I check my surroundings, I lock my door as soon as I get in my car, all of that kind of stuff. It has made me sometimes think that I don’t want to speak about it anymore.

‘However, while I obviously don’t want to be targeted, the documentary will hopefully give more women the confidence to feel that they can share their experience, because it is unfortunately the victims that have to put their face to this to be listened to by the government.’

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