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Efforts to thwart the influence of ‘deepfakes’ meet resistance in the Legislature

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Efforts to thwart the influence of ‘deepfakes’ meet resistance in the Legislature

Feb 23, 2024 | 4:40 pm ET
By Joshua Haiar
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Efforts to thwart the influence of ‘deepfakes’ meet resistance in the Legislature
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Sen. Liz Larson, D-Sioux Falls, listens to testimony during a state Senate Education Committee meeting on Jan. 16, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Legislative efforts to curb the spread of computer-generated fake video, audio and imagery – referred to as “deepfakes” – may have to wait until next year. 

A committee of lawmakers defeated a bill Friday that would have regulated election-related deepfakes, after a broader deepfakes bill was tabled earlier during the legislative session in Pierre.

“We have time to get it right in 2025,” said Justin Smith, a lobbyist for the South Dakota NewsMedia Association. He said more discussion of rapidly evolving technologies, including artificial intelligence, needs to occur before legislation is adopted. 

One of the proposed bills would have required people sharing fake or altered videos, images and audio clips to clearly state that it’s been manipulated. That bill was tabled during its initial committee hearing earlier in the session. 

The other bill would have criminalized the dissemination of unlabeled deep fakes aimed at harming a political candidate within 90 days of an election. It was defeated in the House State Affairs committee Friday with a 7-5 vote. 

Critics of the bill raised concerns about free speech and enforcement. 

Smith said he appreciates the effort but said broadcasters and the news media still have questions, like if “disseminate” would include sharing a social media post online.

Smith said libel and harassment laws already cover much of what the bill hopes to address. 

Additionally, he criticized the bill for saying it’s fine to share unlabeled deepfakes 91 days before an election, “but then you’re a criminal the next day.”

The election-related bill’s prime sponsor, Sioux Falls Democratic Sen. Liz Larson, said she worked with media groups and amended the bill to their liking. She criticized the lobbyists opposing the bill, saying, “I don’t see any path forward that they would be happy with, at all.” 

“This is coming, and right now, and nobody has any recourse,” she said. “Do you like looking at the news and not knowing if it’s true?

Smith was asked by the committee what else would need to be amended in the bill to satisfy his clients. 

“I can’t answer that as I sit here today,” Smith said. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: South Dakota Searchlight is a member of the South Dakota NewsMedia Association.