It’s “a powerful reminder that we can no longer trust our own eyes,” a representative for the UK broadcaster Channel 4 told the Guardian. Each year, the BBC broadcasts a special Christmas address to the nation from Queen Elizabeth II. But it’s 2020 and that means everything has to be extra weird. So, Channel 4 has seized the moment to broadcast its own deepfake version of the Queen’s holiday message.
Played by actress Debra Stephenson, the deepfaked Queen began her speech by thanking Channel 4 for giving her the opportunity to speak from the heart. She then proceeds to make cracks about Harry and Meghan leaving the British Royal Family and health workers taking their lives in their hands to treat Prime Minister Boris Johnson. She also takes a not-so-subtle dig at Prince Andrew’s relationship with the deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
— Channel 4 (@Channel4) December 25, 2020
If you have bad eyesight and limited hearing, you might, might, be fooled by the fake Queen on a busy Christmas day. But by the time she starts talking about Netflix and launches into a dance routine, you’d surely know something’s up. Channel 4 makes little effort to hide its deception, but that hasn’t stopped some critics from expressing discomfort with the stunt.
“We should be really careful about making people think that they can’t believe what they see,” Sam Gregory, program director of the human rights organisation Witness, told the Guardian. “If you’ve not seen them before, this could make you believe that deep fakes are a more widespread problem than they are.”
Deepfakes use machine learning to analyse a batch of images and output a video approximation of what it might look like if say, Office Space starred the cast of The Matrix. But the technique requires a lot of processing power and artistic nuance on the part of a creator in order to fool anyone. Earlier this year, the creators of South Park released a deepfake web series that included counterfeit portrayals of Mark Zuckerberg and Jared Kushner. Even with the resources and talent available to the showrunners of the most successful TV series of all time, the deepfakes were still pretty janky.
But the method of fakery is only getting more convincing and easier for novices to pull off. If deepfakes don’t prove to be a significant source of dangerous misinformation, they’ll at least allow Channel 4 to have its own annual Christmas address from the Queen for years to come.