The Central government will soon frame regulations to tackle the challenge of deepfakes, said Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Ashwini Vaishnaw on Tuesday.

“Deepfake has emerged as a new threat in the society,” the minister said at a press conference. “We need to take immediate steps.”

Deepfake is a technique for manipulating audio and video with the help of artificial intelligence software to show people saying or doing things that they never said or did. The content is made to appear as realistic as possible and is usually used with malicious intent.

It poses a new threat to an online ecosystem that already teems with fake photos created through editing software as well as misinformation and disinformation.

On Thursday, Vaishnaw chaired a meeting with representatives of social media companies, professors from the field of Artificial Intelligence and the National Association of Software and Service Companies, a non governmental organisation that serves the Indian technology industry.

Following the meeting, the minister said that the need of the hour is to focus on four aspects – the detection of deepfakes, how they can be prevented from circulating, how a reporting mechanism can be implemented and raising awareness about it among people.

Vaishnaw minister said that in the coming weeks, efforts would be made to complete drafting a new regulation around deepfakes.

On November 18, Vaishnaw had warned social media platforms that the safe harbour immunity clause under the Information Technology Act will not apply if they do not take steps to remove deepfakes.

The safe harbour clause protects social media intermediaries such as Google and Facebook from legal action against them for content posted online by their users.

A day before, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that deepfakes have become a matter of serious concern for the country and that there was a need to educate people on what their impacts could be.

The prime minister had also remarked that recently, he came across a deepfake video depicting him taking part in garba, a Gujarati folk dance. However, fact-checkers have highlighted that the garba video the prime minister referred to is not a deepfake. The video featured a Modi lookalike.

Modi’s remarks came after a video purportedly showing actor Rashmika Mandanna went viral. The original video was of Zara Patel, a British-Indian social media influencer, and the visuals were morphed to show Mandanna’s face instead of Patel’s.

After the video started doing rounds, Union Minister of State for Electronics and Information and Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said that deepfakes are a major violation of the law and particularly harm women.

One of the first prominent deepfakes to make headlines in India was that of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Manoj Tiwari in 2020, ahead of legislative elections in Delhi. Tiwari had used artificial intelligence to depict himself speaking in two languages – English and Haryanvi – as he criticised his opponent Arvind Kejriwal.

The MIT Technology Review referred to the incident as “the first time a political party anywhere has used a deepfake for campaigning purposes”.