Deepfakes, disinformation and synthetic media

Since May 2019

Artificial intelligence technologies have allowed a wider group of people to manipulate and generate audio, text, video and images. There is global concern about mis- and disinformation.

Brainbox has deep expertise in navigating these subjects. This page includes links to our reports, guidance documents and published chapters on this topic.


Selected work


Is the New Zealand legal system ready for deepfakes?

In 2018, the sky was falling. New technologies let more people than ever before make it look or sound like something had happened when it never had. We applied to the New Zealand Law Foundation to investigate these technologies. What could they do? How good were they? What harms might they cause? We assessed the New Zealand legal system to consider whether we were ready.

We concluded by urging caution against regulating for deepfakes due to risks to freedom of expression. We found a range of legal mechanisms that could be used to remedy harms, but recommended that the law on non-consensual intimate visual recordings be clarified.

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Presentation and discussion to 13 government agencies at Internet NZ

Following the publication of Perception Inception, we organised and hosted a forum of around 13 government agencies and regulators to share our findings.

While scheduled for an hour, attendees stayed for a further hour simply to continue the discussion. The meeting was hosted by Internet NZ.

Attendees included staff from: the Ministry of Defence, the Office of Film and Literature Classification, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Electoral Commission, ESR, the Media Council, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Netsafe, the New Zealand Police, the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, the Broadcasting Standards Authority, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Advertising Standards Authority, the Human Rights Commission.


Shouting Zeros and Ones (Bridget Williams Books)

Curtis Barnes and Tom Barraclough submitted a chapter to Dr Andrew Chen's edited text, Shouting Zeros and Ones: Digital Technology, Ethics and Policy in New Zealand. "Digitised Lies" anchored readers in the topic of disinformation and called policymakers' attention to New Zealand in its geopolitical context. It also outlined the difficulties of regulation.


A disinformation response strategy for Aotearoa (NetHui 2019)

With Serena Chen, Tom Barraclough hosted a session at Internet NZ's annual conference, NetHui. The topic was how to build New Zealand's disinformation response strategy, and aimed to call various policymakers together into one room by presenting a scenario for discussion.

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Emerging Technologies and International Security: Machines, the State, and War

Following attendance at the Waikato Security Dialogue, Brainbox personnel contributed a chapter on deepfakes and synthetic media to an edited volume from Routledge.

"The chapter outlines the initial difficulties of regulating synthetic media technologies, while introducing the reader to the fundamental problems that synthetic media poses to international security. Synthetic media also includes a range of ordinary communications technologies that are designed and utilized for everyday civilian purposes, including augmented reality, virtual reality, computational photography, photo editing, and voice synthesis technologies. It is unstable and unreliable for regulatory purposes, in part because it infers that deepfakes are delineable and distinct from other synthetic media in the technologies and resources used to create them."