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Zwicker, Conaway Bill to Prohibit Deceptive Audio or Visual Media Content of Candidate for Elected Public Office within 60 Days of Election Clears Assembly Committee

To address the emerging use of manipulated media content or deepfakes and their potential threat to our democracy and fair elections, Assemblymen Andrew Zwicker and Herb Conaway sponsor legislation that would bar the use of deceptive audio or visual media content featuring a candidate for elected public office within 60 days of an election.

The bill, (A-4985) was approved by the Assembly Science, Information and Technology Committee on Monday.

In 2018, a deepfake video created with artificial technology showed President Barack Obama giving a speech he had never given. In Belgium, a political group released a deepfake of the Belgian Prime Minister giving a speech that linked the COVID-19 pandemic to environmental damage. And ahead of the 2020 election, Facebook announced that it has banned manipulated videos and photos from its platforms.

“Deepfakes can be a malicious combination of fake narratives and false information used to mislead and misinform the public in ways we haven’t seen before,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “Deepfake videos can be used to influence voters to believe in untruths without them even knowing the content was manipulated. These deceptive machine-learning, computer-generated videos, images or audio have no place in our democracy and that is why we are requiring that their use be disclosed.”

Under the bill, unless there is a disclosure stating that the content has been manipulated, a person or other entity would be prohibited from distributing, within 60 days of any election at which a candidate for elective public office would appear on the ballot, with actual malice deceptive audio or visual media content of the candidate with the intent to injure the candidate’s reputation or to deceive a voter into voting for or against the candidate.

“Fake videos and other manipulated media content introduced during an election aims to erode public trust and faith in democracy,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “Deepfakes have rapidly become a popular tool employed to undermine political candidates, and campaigns. Any altered content of a video, photo, or audio should always include disclosure of its manipulation, especially if there is a chance it could negatively influence an election.”

The bill would authorize a candidate for elective public office whose voice or likeness appears in audio or visual media content distributed in violation of the bill to seek injunctive or other equitable relief prohibiting the distribution of the deceptive audio or visual media content. A candidate whose voice or likeness appears in the deceptive audio or visual media would also be authorized to bring an action for general or special damages against the person or other entity that distributed the content and would authorize the court to award a prevailing party reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

The measure will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.