Cantwell Calls for More Resources to Support Journalists Reckoning with Deepfakes & AI-Generated Content

In Commerce subcommittee hearing, Chair Cantwell calls local journalism “the ecosystem that keeps the trust”

WASHINGTON, D.C. –During a subcommittee hearing yesterday of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Committee Chair U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced her intent to introduce legislation to combat deepfakes to protect consumers and national security, stop potential disruptions of interstate commerce and protect civil liberties and First Amendment rights. 

"I hope that today’s hearing will give us some ideas about how to drive innovation and maintain U.S. leadership in this very important security-related technology and the issues of global competitiveness,” said Sen. Cantwell. "That we talk and discover ideas about deepfakes and potential national security issues, the framework for legislation, [and how to] protect online privacy and combat discrimination."

In an exchange with Sam Gregory, Executive Director of media organization WITNESS, Sen. Cantwell highlighted the unique challenges that AI-generated content and deepfakes pose for local newsrooms.

“The circumstance we see very frequently right now is people claiming that real content is AI generated, and people being unable to prove it's real. And that is corrosive in many contexts around the world,” Gregory said.

Sen. Cantwell responded: “Now you're talking about a subject very near and dear to my heart, and that is the erosion of local journalism … You're saying their job is truth, justice, and the American way. And how can they detect that if they can't do [those] kinds of investigations?”

Gregory said: “Yes, that they don't have access to the tools that they need. And so as DARPA and others build tools, making sure they're accessible and relevant to journalism and others, IT skills so that those are available, and that could be facilitated through existing programs that provide skill sharing.”

Sen. Cantwell called local journalism “the ecosystem that keeps the trust.”

“If you were creating information off of the historical database of all The Seattle Times’ ever-published stories -- which is a very long time -- that's probably some of the most trusted journalistic information you could ever get, because they had to be in that business, right? But anybody who would then take that content, and then [do] who knows what with [it] is a very, very different equation.”

The hearing took place in the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security and explored how to increase transparency in AI technologies for consumers, identify uses of AI that are beneficial or “high-risk,” and evaluate the potential impact of policies designed to increase trustworthiness in the transformational technology.

On Aug. 21, Sen. Cantwell convened an AI Forum in Seattle, where she called on Congress to pass a new AI education bill to help train more than one million people in the growing industry. Cantwell was also instrumental in creating the National AI Advisory Committee (NAIAC), which includes two of the witnesses at today's hearing, and issued its first report in April. 

Sen. Cantwell is a strong supporter of local journalism. In October 2020, she released an extensive report examining the transformation of local news in the information age and impacts to local journalism. In 2021 she introduced the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, which would support local news organizations through tax credits to incentivize hiring more journalists, subscriptions, and advertising from local small businesses.

Video of Sen. Cantwell’s opening remarks is HERE and audio is HERE. Video of her Q&A portion is HERE and audio is HERE. A full transcript of her remarks is HERE.