Does Digital Literacy Have a Role in Mitigating the Spread of Misinformation? A Critical Analysis of Deepfake Videos and Their Comment Sections
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This study explores how digital literacy is thought of by commenters on YouTube in relation to the phenomenon of Deepfakes. The technology behind Deepfake videos is enabling the (algorithmic) creation of manipulated video footage of (high-profile) people that increasingly appears to be authentic and is feared to be become the next frontier in the battle against misinformation. Since becoming more visible as public problem after the 2016 U.S. presidential election, countries and organisations are doubling down on digital literacy as a solution to the problem of misinformation. Along with other authors, this study questions digital literacy as an individual solution to a societal problem. Because digital literacy focuses on knowledge and skills at the individual level, it is found to be too dependent on people’s own assessments of media to effectively counter misinformation. Through a textual analysis of popular YouTube videos relating to Deepfakes and a critical discourse analysis of their comment sections, this study confirms that the skills associated with digital literacy are found to be effective at identifying the current generation of Deepfakes. Like many organisations, the majority of users who comment on the technology of Deepfakes express a concern about its harmful potential. While few of the over 3,000 comments analysed by this study concern digital literacy skills, most comments that put forward a solution focus on audio-visual validation skills that can falsify Deepfakes. Very few YouTube commenters suggest regulatory or technical solutions for combating the spread of Deepfakes. While this suggests that the public discourse on how to identify manipulated content is focussed on individual skills too, this study concludes that digital literacy should put more emphasis on increasing the public’s knowledge of the role and responsibilities of the platforms that govern such content.