If we try to control new communication technologies, the restrictions should be as limited as possible. If too many limitations are placed on our freedom of speech, we could curb the benefits these new technologies could otherwise provide.
History has shown evidence that the restriction of communication proves worse to society than would the risks of new communication technologies. Even when these technologies were initially created for distasteful or illegal purposes, such as deepfakes were, communication done in the right way for the right purposes should not be restricted. Deepfakes have come a long way since they were first introduced as pornographic videos to now becoming a medium in which meaningful messages are created and comedies can provide parodies in which to comment on society at large.
First, what is a deepfake and what do they do?
The technical definition of a deepfake is “still in flux, as technology develops” according to experts. But that doesn’t mean we can’t describe what a deepfake is. Essentially, a deepfake is a video created by advanced video-editing, AI software. This technology takes the face of one person from a video and splices it (cuts it out of the original video and puts it onto a different video) on to the body of a different person. Often neither party gives consent to their face or body being used in the production of these videos.
Deepfakes were first created for pornographic use back in 2018. Often a celebrity’s or influencer’s face would be placed on to a pornstar’s body. Eventually, people came up with other uses for deepfakes such as revenge, defamation, or using influencers’ faces for personal gain, and more. Examples include how an ex-girlfriend’s face could be used in an embarrassing video, or politicians could be seen doing acts that were never actually committed. Others saw their faces being used for causes they never supported or knew about.
The definition is still fluctuating because the same technology and purposes that were used for the original deepfake videos are now be converted to be used with audio, lip-syncing, and even facial re-enactment videos. Someone’s voice and facial movements can be manipulated to say and do whatever the software programmer desires such as Key and Peele’s video with President Obama’s fake news PSA. While this may sound bad and has created a lot of adverse content, it opens up a creative and introspective form of communication.
Parodies, PSAs, entertainment, and, most importantly, a new medium in which to express and communicate are deeply important to our freedom of speech. Each individual, under the U.S. Constitution, has the right to express opinions and ideas without censorship. Such expression helps keep the conversation alive in society about current issues and competing for truth, place checks on the responsibilities of our leaders and those in the public eye, as well as help engage the public in outstanding issues and trust the information being spread.
When the freedom to express oneself fully is taken away, lies are more easily circulated, governmental officials don’t have anyone to answer to for their works, and the public does not trust the information produced nor care about current issues.
The most famous and revolutionary example of how new communication technologies benefit society at large includes the invention of the printing press in 1440. The Gutenberg press was first used to print the Bible. At this time, only priests and church officials had access to the Bible and it was forbidden to translate the Bible into native languages. Decrees and laws for hundreds of years lead to this.
Why did the Pope not want the common man to have the Bible?
Several arguments were given for keeping the Bible out of the hands of the common man and not translating it to native languages. These arguments include that it is a sacred text that should only be interpreted by those with the holy right to do so. The Bible was meant to be read and interpreted by those in authority and heard and accepted by the common man. It also worried laity that the common man would misinterpret the Bible. It was also said that any translation into different languages would cause mistakes and obscure the pure writings of God within the Bible.
To keep the common public from interpreting, having access to, or reading the Bible, restrictions were set forth. This timeline will show important restrictions and events within the censorship of the Bible.
1229 – Decree of the Council of Toulouse:
This decree stated that the church prohibits anybody but laity “to have the books of the Old or New Testament” and that they “most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books” as well.
1234 – Ruling of the Council of Tarragona:
This ruling states that “no one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Romance language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after the promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned…”
1415 – Proclamations at the Ecumenical Council of Constance:
John Wycliffe was the first to translate the New Testament into English. He said it was to “…helpeth Christian men to study the Gospel in that tongue in which they know best Christ’s sentence.” Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury condemned him for this “heresy” after Wycliffe’s death. Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and publicly burned and the ashes were thrown into the Swift River.
1501 – Excommunication act of Pope Alexander VI
The king would excommunicate anyone who printed manuscripts without the church’s approval.
1536 – Fate of William Tyndale:
Tyndale burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English. According to Tyndale, the Church forbid owning or reading the Bible to control and restrict the teachings and to enhance their power and importance.
1543 – Publication of Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres by Copernicus
This book was seen as heresy by the church because it proposed that the other planets did not orbit around the earth, but the sun instead. Copernicus shortly died after its publication and did not receive any direct consequences because of this.
Yet, despite all of these restrictions, the Bible now sells 100 million copies every year across the world. The theological discussion continues to develop and more people than ever are familiar with the lessons and stories of the Bible’s sacred text. Censorship of the Bible and restricting the communication technology of the printing press lead to stunted spiritual growth and lack of trust from the people as well as an influx of “illegal” activity as people found ways to get their hands on the Bible.
Just as with any form of new technology, the printing press has produced harmful content. It has produced texts that lie, defame, hurt, and manipulate others. Yet, this does not mean we burnt the printing press and forgot about it. It means that we adapted our perspectives, became more media literate, and embraced the press for the positive it could do.
In today’s society, new technologies are providing numerous ways in which to express and communicate ideas. We mustn’t limit or restrict the mediums in which we communicate in fear of the unknown consequences or the potential risks they hold. Deepfakes started with a disgusting purpose and transformed into a new mode of potentially informative and positive communication. The printing press was originally an illegal form of placing the Bible into the common man’s hand but proved to increase religious discussion and spirituality across societies. The printing press eventually was used for more than just the Bible and has lead to the exchange of ideas on many subjects and issues.
The freedom to speak is a right and the medium in which a person expresses a message should not be censored under the same privilege of expression.