Westfield High School in Westfield, New Jersey, dates back to 1864, but it’s been a fixture on Dorian Road since 1951. With nearly 2000 students enrolled today, the district has dealt with all kinds of issues over the years, but perhaps few as daunting and diabolical as what happened last month.
Girls at Westfield High School are reeling from fellow students digitally creating and then sharing nude photographs of them – “deepfakes” that take existing legitimate images of their faces found elsewhere and superimpose nude bodies on the teens with the use of artificial intelligence.
Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle told the Wall Street Journal, “To be in a situation where you see young girls traumatized at a vulnerable stage of their lives is hard to witness.”girls
Doroto Mani is mother to 14-year-old Francesca, a student whose image was one of the photographs exploited and distributed.
“I am terrified by how this is going to surface and when,” she said. “My daughter has a bright future, and no one can guarantee this won’t impact her professionally, academically or socially.”
In recent years, some readers may remember examples of “deepfakes” being shared online, notably one video purportedly featuring actor Tom Cruise. It was entertaining, convincing – and downright dangerous.
Digital technology experts and plenty of others have been warning about the potential for artificial intelligence to cause chaos and even outright catastrophe.
Media magnate Elon Musk has been one of those sounding the alarm.
“The consequences of AI going wrong are severe, so we have to be proactive rather than reactive,” Musk told reporters in September.
“The question is really one of civilizational risk. It’s not like … one group of humans versus another. It’s like, hey, this is something that’s potentially risky for all humans everywhere.”
When asked whether it could destroy mankind, Musk was blunt.
“There is some chance that is above zero that AI will kill us all. I think it’s low. But if there’s some chance, I think we should also consider the fragility of human civilization.”
Rather than worrying about A.I. obliterating humanity on earth, parents are understandably concerned about it destroying their child’s reputation and emotional stability.
What can be done?
State lawmakers should be making the creation and distribution of fake pornography illegal, as well as crafting legislation that makes it feasible for victims to sue the creator who exploits them. To date, only four states have done so – New York, California, Virginia, and Minnesota. There’s no good reason why the other 46 states shouldn’t follow suit.
Some have suggested existing laws banning child pornography could apply in the case of Westfield High School, but what type of prosecutorial power those hold remains to be fully tested and seen. Earlier this week, the Biden Administration issued a 111-page executive order “on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence.” Part of the intent was to prohibit the creation of “non-consensual intimate imagery of real individuals” – especially children.
Of course, one of the main challenges is that all that’s needed to create the filth that harms and exploits someone is a phone, a device that most high school students possess these days.
Parents must remain vigilant, maintaining access to their children’s devices – and educating them on the dangers of posting even innocent photos on social media that could be used to try and manipulate and harm them.
Ironically, the Westfield High School mascot is the “Blue Devil” – a term often associated with low spirits, despondency, and melancholy. Yet another derivation dates to World War I and French soldiers nicknamed “les Diables Bleus.” They became famous for their toughness and success battling in the Alps.
Despite the ominous signs and circumstances, Christian parents and teens are called upon to fight back with similar tenaciousness. We need to teach our sons and daughters about sexual purity, mutual respect, and goodness. Laws may punish and deter, but the very best way to prevent this wicked wildfire is to shape and nurture the next generation.