A creepy presidential debate ad shows a deepfake of Putin telling Americans they're ruining their own democracy

Palmer Haasch
·2 min read
putin deepfake representus
A deepfake representation of Vladimir Putin delivers a message about American democracy. RepresentUs/YouTube
  • A new advertising campaign from anti-corruption non-profit RepresentUs uses deepfake technology to deliver a message about democracy.

  • In two different videos, deepfake representations of Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un say that Americans don't need foreign interference to ruin their democracy.

  • The campaign is intended to be shocking, and drive viewers to take actions like volunteer to work at polling stations and check their voter registration.

  • The ad was created to run during the presidential debate, but numerous local affiliates rejected it days ahead of the event.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A new advertising campaign meant to run during the first presidential debate between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump features deepfake representations of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and Russian President Vladimir Putin delivering a message that foreign interference isn't necessary to bring down the United States' democracy.


The advertisements, which were created in partnership with creative agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address, are intended to shock viewers with a message about the fragility of American democracy. In the videos, faux-Putin and faux-Kim both say, "I don't have to do anything. You're doing it to yourselves," vaguely referencing election interference efforts undertaken by the Russian government.

They're also part of a campaign intended to help protect voter rights in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election, with links in the YouTube posts of both videos driving viewers to take certain steps to "save the election" like volunteering to work the polls and demanding that state lawmakers respect the vote count. 

Deepfakes are created with AI technology that uses various images of a subject to renders videos that appear as if someone is doing or saying something they never did. As MIT Technology Review's Karen Hao notes, the awareness campaign is a stark departure from the way deepfakes are typically framed in the political space as having the potential to "confuse voters and disrupt elections."

Joshua Graham Lynn, Co-Founder and President at RepresentUs, said in a statement provided to Insider, that "by featuring two leaders who have a vested interest in the collapse of our democratic system, we are putting the American people face-to-face with just how fragile our democracy really is. We hope it inspires Americans to come together to fight for this one issue that unites us all."

Both advertisements include disclaimers at the end that state, "This footage is not real, but the threat is." Local Washington DC affiliates of MSNBC, CNN, and Fox rejected the advertisement last-minute, MediaPost Agency Daily reported. A spokesperson for the campaign said that the advertisements had ben pre-approved but were pulled-last minute with no explanation. 

Read the original article on Insider