How an AI deepfake ad of MrBeast ended up on TikTok

AI deepfakes are getting so good that a fraudulent MrBeast ad slipped past TikTok’s ad moderation technology to end up on the platform.

In the ad, the massively influential creator appeared to be offering 10,000 viewers an iPhone 15 Pro for just $2. In most cases, this would be a clear indication of a scam, but coming from MrBeast, it could actually be believable.

MrBeast (a 25-year-old named Jimmy Donaldson with more subscribers than any other individual on YouTube) got famous by creating increasingly absurd stunt videos in which he gives people free homes and cars with no strings attached (so long as they agree to be in his video). Or, more recently, he’ll ask people from “every country on Earth” to compete for a $250,000 prize in a series of Olympic-like mini games.

So, if you’re not particularly privy to spotting scams, and you’re scrolling TikTok late at night when you’re not thinking straight, it could be within the realm of possibility that MrBeast would buy 10,000 iPhones to give away via TikTok ad. After all, he literally has given away free iPhones before to unsuspecting trick or treaters.

To be charitable, this could explain how the deepfake ad got approved on TikTok. TikTok uses a mixture of human moderation and — ironically enough — AI-aided technology to review ads before they post. So, essentially, TikTok’s AI battled against the AI behind this MrBeast deepfake and lost.

TikTok told TechCrunch that it removed the ad within a few hours of being posted, since it violated TikTok’s advertising policies. TikTok doesn’t wholly prohibit advertisers from using synthetic or manipulated media, but the platform requires that advertisers very clearly disclose if they are using this kind of technology.

TikTok isn’t unique in its use of AI to moderate advertisements. Meta says it relies “primarily on automated technology,” but similar to TikTok, it uses human reviewers to train its AI and sometimes manually reviews ads.

Deceptive deepfakes aren’t new, but as AI becomes especially trendy among investors and consumers alike, the technology is becoming easier than ever to access. While internet famous celebrities like MrBeast appeal to younger generations, older consumers are being fooled too. This week alone, actor Tom Hanks and CBS anchor Gayle King both warned their followers that they’re being deepfaked into fraudulent ads.

“BEWARE!!” wrote Tom Hanks on Instagram. “There’s a video out there promoting some dental plan with an AI version of me. I have nothing to do with it.”

The FTC has already issued warnings about deepfake marketing, but the practice has proven hard to regulate at scale. And as global elections loom, the consequences of this deceptive advertising could become more dire.

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