Home Cyberpsychology & Technology New Study Reveals Demographics and Functions of Deepfakes on TikTok and YouTube

New Study Reveals Demographics and Functions of Deepfakes on TikTok and YouTube

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New information about the demographics of people featured in deepfakes on popular platforms like TikTok and YouTube has come from a recent study by Carl Hman from Uppsala University. This study, which analysed 1,413 openly doctored videos, highlights significant trends and cultural functions associated with non-pornographic deepfakes, challenging prevailing notions within existing literature. The findings were published in SSRN

The study reveals that deepfakes on these platforms predominantly feature White males. On YouTube, a striking 87% of the targets were white, and 89% were male. TikTok showed a similar trend, with 61.5% white and 72% male targets. These findings starkly contrast with the demographics reported on pornographic deepfake sites, where women, particularly female celebrities, are overwhelmingly the primary targets​​ .

This gender disparity raises intriguing questions. One possible explanation is the general underrepresentation of women in positions of power and prominence, sectors from which deepfake targets are commonly drawn. However, even among entertainment figures, men are disproportionately represented. Another hypothesis posited by the study suggests that content creators may be more hesitant to use female faces due to the association of female deepfakes with pornography and harassment .

Within the political realm, the study identifies a notable preference for targeting authoritarian and populist figures. On TikTok, 58% of political deepfakes featured authoritarian populists, compared to 39% liberals and only 4% conservatives. This trend suggests a possible cultural function tied to these figures’ notoriety and established associations with fake news and disinformation .

The frequent use of faces like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro could be interpreted as implicit commentary on their controversial and meme-worthy public personas. These figures are often depicted in absurd or comical scenarios, reflecting an intersection with internet culture, where their images are already widely used in memes .

The study identifies three primary cultural functions of deepfakes on mainstream platforms: augmentation of artistic imagination, technological show-off, and carnivalesque profanation.

Many deepfakes aim to creatively reimagine casting decisions or pay homage to iconic figures. For instance, videos might depict different actors in well-known movie roles, such as recasting Spider-Man, or recreate performances by deceased stars like Elvis Presley. These deepfakes serve to enhance and animate the viewers’ imaginative experiences, engaging them in speculative and tribute-based content.

A significant number of deepfakes appear to be created to showcase the capabilities of the technology itself. Content creators often produce highly realistic swaps of actors’ faces in various scenes, demonstrating their technical skills. This feature is consistent with survey results showing that a sizable portion of deepfake consumers have technological curiosity rather than malicious or malign intent.

Perhaps the most prevalent use of deepfakes is for comedic effect, often achieved by superimposing faces in ludicrous contexts. This form of “carnivalesque profanation” echoes historical practices of using masks and role reversals to challenge and mock societal hierarchies. Examples include deepfakes of political leaders engaging in humorous banter or participating in absurd scenarios, reinforcing the idea that these videos are more about collective amusement and subversion than deception.

Öhman’s study broadens the scope of deepfake research by moving beyond the typical focus on pornography and political disinformation. It underscores the need to understand the non-deceptive uses of deepfakes and their cultural implications. The findings challenge alarmist narratives that predict an imminent “epistemic apocalypse” due to deepfakes, suggesting instead that their current societal role is more nuanced and multifaceted.

Further research is needed to delve into the motivations behind creating and sharing non-pornographic deepfakes. Understanding the cultural and social contexts that drive these practices will provide deeper insights into how synthetic media is integrated into everyday digital interactions.

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