In a recent incident, a deepfake video featuring Telugu actor Rashmika Mandanna went viral on various social media platforms, including X (formerly Twitter). The video portrayed Mandanna’s face superimposed onto the body of a British-Indian woman, Zara Patel. Abhishek Kumar, a journalist at the fact-checking publication Alt News, commented that the viral deepfake video was so well-executed that it could easily deceive ordinary social media users.
Mandanna herself responded to the video, expressing her deep concern. She stated, “I feel really hurt to share this and have to talk about the deepfake video of me being spread online. Something like this is honestly, extremely scary not only for me but also for each one of us who today is vulnerable to so much harm because of how technology is being misused.”
She further added, “Today, as a woman and as an actor, I am thankful for my family, friends, and well-wishers who are my protection and support system. But if this happened to me when I was in school or college, I genuinely can’t imagine how I could ever tackle this. We need to address this as a community and with urgency before more of us are affected by such identity theft.”
The issue of morphed photos and videos, particularly of famous women, circulating online is not new. However, the emergence of AI-based tools has made it easier for individuals to create realistic deepfakes that both look and sound genuine.
AI tools that can “remove the clothes” from uploaded images are now available. Recent incidents in the US and Spain have revealed AI-generated naked images of tween and teenage girls circulating in their local communities, created by minor boys using social media photographs posted by the girls.
On platforms like Twitter and Reddit, multiple accounts and subreddits exist where users routinely generate deepfakes of famous women, often film actresses, engaging in explicit acts.
Malavika Rajkumar, a project associate at IT For Change, highlighted the psychological impact of such acts, causing fear among women and deplatforming them from online spaces. Online gender-based violence not only affects mental health but can also have economic consequences, causing women to lose their jobs due to perceived reputational harm.
In this case, both Mandanna and Patel have been subjected to online gender-based violence. Patel’s agency has been taken away from her as she is reduced to just her body.
“There is an urgent need for a legal and regulatory framework to deal with deepfakes in India,” Abhishek Kumar emphasized.
Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology, Rajeev Chandrasekhar, responded to Kumar’s thread, highlighting the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021, which were amended to make it mandatory for intermediaries to make reasonable efforts to ensure users do not upload misleading or false content. Chandrasekhar clarified that platforms failing to comply could be taken to court under provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Vrinda Bhandari, a Delhi-based lawyer, explained that deepfakes fall under the category of misinformation. Such content can be taken down within 36 hours upon receipt of a court order or notification by a government agency. Rule 3(2)(b) of the IT Rules allows individuals to complain about content, including morphed images, leading to their removal within 24 hours.
The pervasiveness of online gender-based violence has led to significant changes in social interactions, affecting not only the victims but also society as a whole, according to Rajkumar.