Digital democracy Ukraine

Deepfakes in politics

New reports of the deepfake technology being used to trick politicians and citizens emerge every day. Despite numerous positive use cases of AI-generated synthetic media, deepfakes might also pose significant dangers to democracy and become the new standard of masterful manipulation. With this in mind, DRI Ukraine partnered with the Committee on the Development of Artificial Intelligence under the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine to organize a roundtable discussion “Deepfakes in Politics”. It was held on 14 December 2021 online, streamed both in English and in Ukrainian.   

The discussion was centered around the use of deepfakes in politics and was held with the participation of industry and policy leaders.  


  • VitaliyGoncharuk, Head of the Expert Committee on AI Development under the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine, CEO and Founder at Augmented Pixels 
  • OleksandrSerdiuk, CEO atRespeecher 
  • AnnaBulakh, Policy Advisor at Reface
  • UlianaPoltavets, Programme Coordinator at Democracy Reporting International, Coordinator at the Expert Committee on AI Development 

During the discussion the following definition of deepfakes proposed by the European Parliament was used. Deepfakes are manipulated or synthetic audio or visual media that look authentic, depicting people who say or do something they have never said or done, created through artificial intelligence, machine learning and deep learning.  

Uliana Poltavets showed examples and cases where deepfakes were used. Not always deepfakes are used maliciously. There are also harmless areas of use of technology. This, of course, is television and cinema, as well as political satire. However, the focus of the discussion was the effects of deepfakes on society and democracy - for example, the threat to elections, judiciary, the loss of trust in citizens. At the individual level, it is the risk of discreditation and slander, blackmail, pornography, and theft of personal data. At the security level, it is a threat to national security, international relations, growing threat of cybercrime, a threat to economic stability, and so on. 

Vitaliy Goncharuk mentioned that the deepfake technology is already very mature and very cheap. It is a matter of time when it will be used to manipulate political processes.  

Anna Bulakh challenges the European Parliament’s definition saying that the synthetic media technology and any manipulation is neutral. What makes it “deepfake” and malicious is intent (why and what for) and attribution (by whom). What modern tech companies like Reface bring to the consumer is democratization of the technology where it becomes more available and thus accessible for anyone, for any intent.    

Oleksandr Serdiuk claims that visual synthetic media are ahead of sound synthetic technology. He has no doubt that these technologies will be used for harm – it is merely a matter of time. At the same time, most experts agree that there is no effective way to detect a deepfake through an automated system.  

Deepfakes will obviously be widely used in elections. Among interesting trends in electoral process is so called “deepfake microtargeting” where candidates can appeal directly to their voters through manipulated videos. There is a question of regulation of such content.  

While ethical companies like Reface and Respeecher have clear guidelines for their activities and products, malicious actors obviously do not follow the same ethical codes and are not restrained by them. Therefore, any legal action might not be enough to target those actors. However, according to all representatives of the industry, self-regulation during the stage of design of the product is a necessary prerequisite; it is not only good for the society and consumer, it is also good for business. Self-regulation can also be done through professional associations at the industry level.    

One of the solutions offered to political actors/candidates is digital marking/labeling their video/audio content. Any video content without such digital signature is automatically deemed deepfake. This, however, leaves a lot of leeway for politicians and their accountability.  

All experts agree that awareness building, education, and training of critical thinking in the society are of essential importance. It is also important for the industry for it to continue to grow which is why businesses are also interested in cooperation with civil society and governments.  

100% of the participants reported that it is necessary to actualize the topic of deepfakes in politics. 100% of the participants reported that the issues discussed at the event are important and relevant. 100% participants reported that their awareness of the topic increased after the event.  

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