Deepfakes, Public Announcements, and Political Mobilization

In Alex Worsnip (ed.), Oxford Studies in Epistemology, vol. 8. Oxford University Press (forthcoming)
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This paper takes up the question of how videographic public announcements (VPAs)---i.e. videos that a wide swath of the public sees and knows that everyone else can see too--- have functioned to mobilize people politically, and how the presence of deepfakes in our information environment stands to change the dynamics of this mobilization. Existing work by Regina Rini, Don Fallis and others has focused on the ways that deepfakes might interrupt our acquisition of first-order knowledge through videos. But I point out that even where every audience member takes a video to be veridical, where first-order knowledge acquisition is secure, an audience aware of deepfakes in their environment will not acquire higher order knowledge in the way that has erstwhile been characteristic for audiences of VPAs. Engaging with ideas from the literatures on public announcement logic, common knowledge, and convention, I enumerate a variety of ways in which we should expect this absence of higher order knowledge to throw up barriers to political mobilization. I go on to apply my analysis of VPAs to the mechanisms by which an uptick in publicly available videos of police brutality over the last decade, mediated by camera phones and social media, was responsible for the largest mass protests in US history in summer 2020. This makes vivid the stakes of the transformation in our mobilizing environment that I've claimed deepfakes effect: where we lose the common-knowledge-generating effects of VPAs, there are fresh obstacles to this sort of mass mobilization.

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Megan Hyska
Northwestern University


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