Channel 4 will air an alternative ‘deepfake’ Queen's speech on Christmas Day

Since 1993, Channel 4 has broadcast an ‘alternative’ Christmas message, poking fun at the Queen’s speech by having a celebrity deliver a message in the same manner as Her Majesty.

Previous hosts for the alternative Christmas message have included Rory Bremner (as Diana, Princess of Wales), Sacha Baron Cohen (as Ali G), Marge Simpson, Jamie Oliver, Katie Piper, Adam Hills and Danny Dyer.

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This year, it appears that the Queen herself will be appearing on the alternative Christmas message broadcast, except Channel 4’s version of the Queen will really be a so-called ‘deepfake’, voiced by former Coronation Street star, Debra Stephenson.

Stephenson has previously imitated the Queen on shows such as Spitting Image.

TikTok dance routine

Channel 4 shared a preview of the alternative Christmas message on its official Twitter account.

In the video, the fake Queen says, “On the BBC, I haven’t always been able to speak plainly and from the heart.

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“So I am grateful for Channel 4 for giving me the opportunity to say whatever I like, without anyone putting words in my mouth.

“If there is a theme to my message today, it is trust. Trust in what is genuine - and what is not.

“2020 has been a challenging year for us all. One thing that has sustained many of us is our families.

“Which is why I was so saddened by the departure of Harry and Meghan. There are few things more hurtful than someone telling you they prefer the company of Canadians.”

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The digitally created Queen will also seemingly share her thoughts on the scandal regarding the Duke of York and his connection to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. She will also appear to perform a viral TikTok dance routine.

‘Images cannot always be trusted’

Stephenson said, “I have an intense fascination with deepfake technology. For years I have studied people to impersonate them for TV, but now I can truly become them.

“As an actress it is thrilling, but it is also terrifying if you consider how this could be used in other contexts.”

Ian Katz, director of programmes at Channel 4, said, “Deepfake technology is the frightening new frontier in the battle between misinformation and truth.

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“This years 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.”

Director of the message, William Bartlett, said, “This was a great project to be asked to direct.

“Deepfake is an interesting spin off from the recent advances made in machine learning and AI and, while it is a powerful new technique for image maskers everywhere, it is also a tool that can be used to misrepresent and deceive.

“With Channel 4, we wanted to create a sequence that is hopefully entertaining enough that it will be seen by a lot of people and thereby spread the very real message that images cannot always be trusted.”

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What is a deepfake?

Deepfake is a type of artificial intelligence which allows people to create extremely convincing videos of people doing and saying things which are completely fabricated.

You might have seen videos on social media of deepfakes, such as actor Bill Hader morphing into different people, like Tom Cruise and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

While the technology revolving around deepfakes continues to evolve, there are ways to spot if a video you’re watching is actually a deepfake. Giveaway signs include things like unnatural eye movements, a lack of blinking, bad lip syncing, and unnatural facial expressions.

The term “deepfake” originated in 2017, after an anonymous Reddit user manipulated Google’s open source, deep learning technology to create and post pornographic videos with celebrity faces.

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When will the alternative message be aired?

The alternative Christmas message will be shown on Channel 4 on Christmas Day (25 Dec), at 3:25pm.

The real Queen’s speech will be broadcast on BBC and ITV, radio stations and online at 3pm on Christmas Day.

‘Fairly sure this is illegal’

The tweet showcasing the clip on the Channel 4 Twitter account has garnered 1.8 thousand replies since it was first posted on Wednesday 23 December. Reaction to the video in the replies has been mixed.

One person wrote, “I’m fairly sure that this is illegal. Like defacing a coin. Would be a great end to 2020 to see you lose your broadcasting licence.”

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Another tweeted, “Have fun at the Ofcom tribunal, Channel 4! Oh, and you might want to hire more staff to deal with the complaints.”

“This is appalling. For a channel that highlights the dangers of fake news and doctored content online in its new outlet, it’s very disappointing to see it indulging in the same methods for ‘comedy’ and normalising the blurred lines,” wrote another.

However, not all reactions to the clip were bad, with many appreciating the video.

One person replied, “How are so many people missing the point? The @Channel4 alt message has always pushed boundaries and sparked debate. They are not mocking her or just being funny. The whole point is to give a (light hearted) warning about deepfake tech and I look forward to seeing it in full.”

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Another user wrote, “FFS the Gammons taking themselves so seriously. Seems like harmless fun to me and I say this as a British citizen who emigrated to Canada.”

“Absolutely brilliant, I have never listened to Queen’s speech but I am prepared to make an exception for this one! Great work Channel 4,” wrote another.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister site The Scotsman