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Perspective | Navigating the rise of AI and deepfakes: An educator’s role in empowering students for the future

Editor’s Note: The following is the final piece in a series of three Perspectives from the Social Institute about artificial intelligence.

Throughout this 3-part series, we’ve looked at how artificial intelligence impacts students’ daily lives and the truth behind students using AI for schoolwork. In this final piece, we are addressing the challenges many schools are facing as AI gets smarter and more realistic.  

For students, AI is transforming the world around them — from generating content they are consuming, to introducing new ways to study with ChatGPT, to discovering tips and tricks and finding answers to common questions with Snapchat’s My AI. While there are many positive ways AI is shaping students’ lives, it’s also important to be aware of the implications of the rise of deepfake content, which are fake, AI-generated photos and videos. Deepfake fraud attempts were up 3000% in 2023. 

In the past, celebrities have been the ones hit hardest by deepfake content, through videos portraying false statements to fake explicit images. But AI-generated content is making its way into students’ experiences, too. In one instance, a New Jersey High School student was caught using AI to manipulate real photos to create pornographic images of classmates. 

Empowering and equipping students to navigate AI in positive, high-character ways has never been more important.

Understanding the impact on students

“One photo is all it takes to create a deepfake,” said Dr. Hany Farid, a professor at U.C. Berkeley. “Anyone with a singular photo of themselves on the internet is susceptible to a deepfake getting created.”

While it may be disheartening to come across such information, it’s crucial to understand that AI can be a powerful tool for good, and educators can make a difference. By staying informed about emerging technologies, such as AI’s capabilities to create hyper-realistic content, and championing responsible online behavior, educators can guide students to navigate AI with integrity.

When students’ privacy is violated and their reputations are impacted, such as through deepfakes and AI-generated content, students’ self-esteem and mental health are affected

In one example, Famous YouTube influencer Gabi Belle went online to find fake naked photos of her body circulating social media. Gabi knew the images weren’t real and contacted her team to take them down. However, once they were removed, more fake images resurfaced. Gabi mentioned feeling “yucky and violated” after seeing the deep fakes of herself online. She was targeted by nearly 100 fake photos, illuminating the ease of how quickly this content can spread online and the scale of the violation experienced by victims. 

By huddling with students, educators can empower them to make responsible decisions in the face of AI and other emerging technologies. Let’s find out how. 

Tell me more

Here at The Social Institute, we empower school communities to navigate their social world positively — including social media and technology — to fuel their health, happiness, and future success. We do this by engaging with students through the peer-to-peer learning platform, #WinAtSocial, on their experiences with tech, social media and current events. We recently did so with 9th – 12th graders about their experiences with the recent surge of deepfake content generated by AI. When we asked students when they believe AI use becomes unethical, their top response was, “Generating content that can harm someone’s reputation.”

These insights reveal a growing concern among students. The rise of AI-generated explicit content has surged by over 290% on the internet’s top 10 platforms, as highlighted by industry analyst Genevieve Oh. These platforms feature manipulated imagery of public figures like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as unsuspecting young individuals, such as the New Jersey high school students, exposing them to potential harm, extortion, and privacy violations. 

In September of 2023, the Deepfakes Accountability Act was introduced to protect individuals nationwide from the spread of harmful AI-generated content. If passed, the legislation would require social media creators to label all deepfakes uploaded to a platform through watermarks or other labels. 

Similarly, President Biden’s executive order on AI encourages companies to adopt labeling AI content. However, it does not mandate them to distinguish AI-generated photos, videos, and audio from human-made content. 

The new legislation and executive order underscore the need for AI and social media education in schools.

Empowering students to navigate AI in high-character ways

One of our Seven Social Standards, Play To Your Core, encourages students to reflect their values, character, and interests in their actions online. 

When it comes to deepfakes and AI-generated content, educators can huddle with their students and equip them with the tools to play to their core online and navigate tech for good. Here’s how: 

  1. Verify content online: Equip students with the tools to learn if something online is real or fake by looking for signs and verifying resources. Check out this simulation. 
  2. Make a positive impact: Discuss with your students how AI, when used negatively, can be harmful and hurt your academic and social reputation. Instead, empower students to navigate AI positively by using it as a study buddy or to explore new interests.
  3. Keep an eye out: Empower students to say something if they see something. If students see a photo of themselves or someone else posted online without consent, encourage them to bring it up to a trusted adult. 

AI and technology aren’t going away, and it’s up to us as educators to take a proactive approach to empower our students to navigate AI in ways that play to their core values.

Laura Tierney

Laura Tierney is the Founder and CEO of The Social Institute, empowering students and their role models to navigate social media and technology in positive, high-character ways.