The Debate on Deepfake Porn Misses the Point

In the weeks after Ewing’s stream, the online conversation about the deepfakes continued to spiral. 

Commenters went on tirades about how streamers who’ve been deepfaked shouldn’t care, while others claimed it was all for attention. Above all, it was men—online and off—who had not been deepfaked who seemed determined to decide what was a proper way to react. Blaire says male friends apologized to her boyfriend, rather than to her, for the trouble the incident was causing. Pokimane rebuffed comments that photos she’d posted justify her, or anyone else’s, treatment. “People can post whatever they want, and that still means you still need their consent to do certain things, including sexualizing them and then profiting off of it,” she said during a stream.

On Twitter, Higa lambasted critics. “The debate over our experience as women in this is, not shockingly, amongst men,” Higa wrote. “None of you should care or listen to what any male streamer’s ‘take’ is on how we feel.” The situation has made her feel “disgusting, vulnerable, nauseous, and violated,” she continued. “This is not your debate. Stop acting like it is.”  

Other streamers who’d been targeted remained quiet. There seemed to be an unspoken understanding between them: damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Talking about how it felt to be deepfaked came with the unfortunate by-product of adding fuel to the fire. For Blaire, efforts to defend herself led to more harassment. Some streamers choose to have OnlyFans accounts, where they have the power to decide what gets posted and profit from it. Although Blaire is pro-sex work, this is not something she’s opted to do. Instead, sexualized images were created without her knowledge. “The most tepid take on all this is like, ‘Hey, consent is important,’” she says, “and there are still people that will argue that.” 

In an attempt to show viewers the impact these deepfakes had on her, a real person, she did a very human thing: She got on Twitch and streamed herself, red-faced and vulnerable. “This is what pain looks like,” she repeated in the video, crying openly. “It should not be a part of my job to have to pay money to get this stuff taken down,” she said. “It should not be part of my job to be harassed, to see pictures of me ‘nude’ spread around … It shouldn’t be a part of my job. And the fact that it is, is exhausting.” 

Blaire’s impassioned plea—the closest she could get to sitting in a room with thousands of people to let them absorb her presence as a person hurting—prompted some critics to double down. Fellow Twitch streamers made reaction content and jokes out of her video; mega-popular creator Ethan Klein of h3h3Productions streamed a segment where he played “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” over Blaire’s video, giggling and covering his face throughout. He later issued an apology. Across communities on Reddit and Twitter, commenters accused the women involved of exaggerating the impact of the deepfakes, comparing the fakes to a harmless photoshop job. One user tweeted a picture of a tablet at Blaire; the device showed an image of her from her pain-filled stream. Its screen was covered with semen.

“People are mad at you for reacting,” Blaire says. “And then other people are saying, ‘Oh, she’s baiting sympathy.’ It just never ends.” 

Arguing that deepfakes can’t be harmful because they’re not “real” is as reductive as it is false. It’s ignorant to proclaim they’re no big deal while the people impacted are telling you they are. Deepfakes can inflict “the same kinds of harms as an actual piece of media recorded from a person would,” says Cailin O’Connor, author of The Misinformation Age and a professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Whether or not they’re fake, the impression still lasts.”




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