The House Intelligence committee hearing on Thursday was suppose to be on “deepfakes” — the convincing, AI-assisted fake videos that could wreak havoc on the 2020 election.
But Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), the committee’s ranking member, had other things on his mind.
“I join you in your concern about deepfakes,” Nunes told House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA). “And I want to add to that fake news and fake dossiers, and everything else that we have in politics.”
Nunes added that he had decided not to bring faked images of Schiff himself to the hearing.
“This is real — if you get online you can see pictures of yourself, Mr. Chairman, they’re quite entertaining, some of them,” Nunes said.
“Maybe they’re entertaining for you,” Schiff replied.
This isn’t the first time Nunes has missed the point of investigations into election meddling. As the committee’s previous chairman, Nunes made a secret visit to the White House to find supposed proof that Trump was surveilled during the election, claims he later backed away from. Then Nunes concocted an entire news cycle around a memo he created that promised to reveal more shocking information about the investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, but that flopped, too.
Witnesses at the panel also lacked Nunes’ mirth, describing a grim future where cheaply available technology makes it easy for mischievous online actors to fake incriminating videos of politicians, then circulate the footage online through social media. Social networks are unable to filter out the videos before they’re uploaded, according to experts at the panel. Even if they’re accompanied by a disclaimer, the deepfake videos are effective,
“There’s really no counter-speech,” University of Maryland law professor Danielle Citron said.
The House went through its fake video saga in May, after a video of Speaker Nancy Pelosi slowed down to make her appear drunk circulated on Facebook and was promoted by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani. That video was so easy to make that one witness in the hearing dubbed a “cheapfake.”
Nunes wasn’t the only lawmaker who couldn’t stay focused on deepfakes. Other representatives compared deepfake videos — which are produced with assistance from artificial intelligence — to the Milli Vanilli lip syncing scandal and Chevy Chase’s impersonation of Gerald Ford on Saturday Night Live.
“He didn’t even try to look like Gerald Ford,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH).
Later in the hearing, Nunes pivoted to another favorite issue: allegations, promoted by Donald Trump, that the social media giants discriminate against Republicans. Nunes said that current filters on social media networks are created by the “partisan left-wing.”
“Most of the time it’s conservatives who get banned, and not Democrats,” Nunes said. “Like the Pelosi video was taken down, that’s fine. I don’t have a problem with that. But I can tell you there’s videos up of Republicans that go on and on. So it’s all in who’s building the filter, right?”