Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson has appeared in numerous videos and podcasts, so there is a lot of video and audio material of him freely available. This makes him an easy target for deepfakes.
Peterson’s deepfake avatar insults the German government, which is celebrated on Twitter by critics of the German government who spread the video. They don’t realize they’ve fallen for a deepfake.
Since the emergence of deepfakes around 2017, there have been fears about their harmful potential, especially for political abuse and opinion-mongering on social media. So far, these fears have not materialized. But the following example shows that the risk is real.
Jordan Peterson deepfake deceives German Twitter users
The German-language Twitter user “Snicklink” spreads politically motivated deepfake videos on Twitter, including Peterson’s at the end of February. Snicklink calls his videos “AI activism” and “digital meme warfare” to “beat them with their own weapons.” In his Peterson Deepfake, Snicklink makes disparaging remarks about a slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbocks.
Dr. Jordan Peterson on German'y foreign minister Annalena Baerbock & kakistocracy 💥🤣 pic.twitter.com/rJ9OwcyEoG
— Snicklink (@snicklink) February 27, 2023
In a second video, Snicklink uses a Peterson deepfake to thank his “German audience” for their kind support of his video about the “ridiculous German government”.
Eine besondere Nachricht von Dr. Jordan Peterson 😍 thanks JP! pic.twitter.com/JOS5jA5Fnb
— Snicklink (@snicklink) March 1, 2023
Despite the video’s technical flaws, many Twitter users fell for the Peterson deepfake, feeling vindicated in their political opinions and spreading the video.
“We have become the laughing stock of the world – completely deserved,” writes one user. “The German government is a clown show,” says another.
Im Ausland macht man sich über #Deutschland und seine total unfähige Regierung lustig.
Dr. Jordan #Peterson mit seinem Statement über Deutschlands #Regierung.
Wir sind zur Lachnummer der Welt mutiert – völlig verdient! pic.twitter.com/2C30bZPwtf
— XzumTreme (@XzumTreme) March 2, 2023
One user is pleased with Peterson’s international reach. “Jordan Peterson has reach … by now pretty much everyone should have realized that Germany is run by the best of the best.”
“Lack of education and inferior intelligence have become the basis of support for the government, which was elected with only 39% of the vote after deducting non-voters. And while German civil society still hopes that no one abroad will notice, the reality is, Dr. Peterson,” writes a German government critic who believes Peterson’s statements to be true.
The same user later learns that he fell for a deepfake, citing the length of the video as the reason: “Because of the length of the video, I didn’t think anyone would be crazy enough to put that much effort into it, especially since Peterson is cool.”
Original Peterson calls deepfakes “dangerous beyond belief”
These examples show how misleading political deepfakes can be. Upon closer inspection, the audio track and lip movement don’t match. However, on small smartphone displays or when quickly scrolling through social media, this is hardly noticeable.
In addition, many users lack media literacy, apparently trusting Peterson to make such statements instead of critically questioning them.
Snicklink’s deepfake gained enough traction that the original Jordan Peterson spoke out about it: “There is an AI deepfake of me making derogatory comments about the German government circulating. The voice is off but it’s otherwise moderately convincing.”
Creating such a video should be considered a crime punishable by at least ten years in prison, Peterson said. The technology is “dangerous beyond belief,” he said.