Eerily realistic likenesses of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin sit back and predict the demise of American democracy in a pair of chilling political ads running on social media and broadcast today—in time for the first debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
The ads, from non-partisan anti-corruption organization RepresentUs and created out of Mischief @ No Fixed Address, employ deepfake technology to depict the faux leaders musing over how the election process in America has been threatened—so it makes any of their attempts to undermine our democracy all the more easy.
“The people are divided, your voting districts are manipulated, voting locations are closing so millions can’t vote,” Kim says in his film. “It’s not hard for democracy to collapse. All you have to do—is nothing.”
“America, you are blaming me for interfering with your democracy, but I don’t have to,” says Deepfake Putin. “But I don’t have to. You are doing it to yourselves. Polling stations are closing you don’t know who to trust. You are divided. There are strings we can pull, but we don’t have to. You are pulling them for us.”
The endline of the ads reads, “Democracy lives or dies with you …. The footage is not real, but the threat is.”
The YouTube version of the spots direct readers to the RepresentUs site, where the organization lists six things citizens can do to help America’s coming election go smoothly.
According to Mischief, the spots were due to run on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC in the Washington D.C. market. The networks had pre-approved the ads but pulled them the day before they were to air. The news organizations provided no explanation as to why they were removed.
Mischief also worked with Dini von Mueffling Communications to amplify the idea. The ads will be disseminated on social media by various celebrities, including Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom and Kathy Griffin, among others. The media spend intended for broadcast will now be reallocated toward social.
Had they run on television, the agency says the ads would have been the first time deepfake tech would have been used for major U.S. TV broadcast in the political arena. (We have seen deepfake in broadcast advertising previously, as in Hulu’s earlier campaign that applied the technology to sports stars).
RepresentUs bills itself as a non-partisan organization aimed at tackling government corruption that threatens issues Americans care about and has been fighting against broken elections, gerrymandering, political bribery and more.
“I get it. Deepfakes are a threat and so is Russia,” said Joshua Graham Lynn, co-founder and president at RepresentUs, in a statement. “But it is at our own peril that we ignore the threats right here at home. It’s time to wake up and fight for our sacred democracy.”
“There is so much noise in this political environment that people can be overwhelmed and left feeling it’s all out of their hands, there's nothing they can do,” added Greg Hahn, co-founder and CCO at Mischief. “Apathy is actually the intent of the noise. It was really critical to cut through all of that in a way that provokes."