UK television station Channel 4 has come under fire for a digitally altered video of Queen Elizabeth II giving her annual Christmas message, but the station says the segment is “a stark warning” about deepfake technology and the “proliferation of misinformation” in the digital age.
- The deepfake ends her address Queen warning viewers to question what they see and hear
- Channel 4 says the segment shows firsthand how deepfake technology can enable “fake news”
- But the segment was met with backlash even before it aired
In a statement announcing the four-minute segment’s airing on the afternoon of Christmas Day in the UK, Channel 4 said the fake Queen appears “startlingly familiar at first” as she addresses what she and her husband Prince Philip have been doing in lockdown.
But the fake address takes a bizarre turn when she performs a TikTok dance routine.
It ends with her making a statement about “trust”, warning viewers to question “whether what we see and hear is always as it seems”.
Channel 4 says the segment shows firsthand how advanced deepfake technology can enable misinformation and “fake news”.
“Deepfake technology is the frightening new frontier in the battle between misinformation and truth,” Channel 4 director of programmes Ian Katz said.
“This year’s Alternative Christmas Address — seemingly delivered by one of the most familiar and trusted figures in the nation — is a powerful reminder that we can no longer trust our own eyes.”
But the decision has been widely criticised by social media users even before it airs on Christmas Day.
Several Twitter users responded to Channel 4’s promo for the segment by calling for a boycott of the station, while other slammed it as “disgraceful” and “disrespectful” to the Queen.
The deepfake Queen was created by Oscar-winning VFX studio Framestore, with actress and impersonator Debra Stephenson playing the Queen.
The BBC’s royal correspondent Nicholas Witchell criticised the quality of the impersonation.
“The voice sounds what it is — a rather poor attempt to impersonate her. What makes it troubling is the use of video technology to attempt to sync her lips to the words being spoken.”
First airing in 1993, Channel 4’s alternative Christmas message airs at the same time as the Queen’s official address, and has previously featured the President of Iran, whistleblower Edward Snowden and Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G.