AI deepfakes give a voice to victims of gun violence — and uses them to demand action from lawmakers

The faces of six victims of gun violence, beneath the text: "The Shotline: Voices lost to gun violence make the call for change"

Six years ago today, on February 14, 2018, Manuel and Patricia Oliver lost their son, Joaquin in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 

Since then, the couple has worked to end gun violence through their nonprofit Change the Ref. With poignant and haunting art campaigns, their mission is to raise awareness of mass shootings, reduce the public influence of the National Rifle Association, and urge elected officials to take action.

This year, on the anniversary of their son’s death, they launched their latest campaign: An AI project that leverages the voices of young people killed in school shootings to call elected officials

Manuel and Patricia stood outside of Congress in Washington DC this morning, surrounded by other community members impacted by the 2018 shooting, to unveil the latest project.

“We decided to, as usual, like every anniversary of the Parkland shooting, when we lost our beautiful son… keep on trying to be a part of the solution,” Manuel said. “The pain has not changed. It hurts every single day, every second. And that means we need to find ways to fight that pain.”

Manuel Oliver adds a flower to a mural honoring lives lost to gun violence
Manuel Oliver works on one of the many projects developed by Change the Ref over the years. Photo courtesy of Change the Ref

He continued by highlighting the work CTR has done in the past six years, as well as the work of March For Our Lives, the student-led coalition that was born from the Parkland shooting, which is also behind the new campaign.

“During those six years, we’ve been doing almost everything,” he said. “Talking, talking, knocking doors in Congress, knocking doors in the Senate. Six years ago, the kids were able to bring together almost a million people in this city. Voices and voices and voices, begging you for help. Voices and voices and voices that have been ignored.”

To capture the attention of those in power, he said, “we decided to go in a new direction.”

That new direction is called The Shotline, a website that has re-created the voices of those shot and killed by guns, so they can call representatives in hopes of changing the country’s gun laws.

A screenshot of the Shotline website, featuring Joaquin Oliver
Photo courtesy of Change the Ref/March for Our Lives

Website visitors can hear the stories of these young people in their own voices, developed through the use of artificial intelligence. Then, with a few simple clicks, and the inputting of one’s zip code, those stories will be sent to the offices of U.S. senators and representatives. 

“We decided that it’s time for other voices to be heard,” Manuel said. “And maybe we’ll get your attention.”

Under an hour of the campaign’s launch, over 800 calls had been logged on the website.

Joaquin’s voice echoed in Washington DC during the announcement — and will continue to do so, as gun law advocates follow CTR’s call to action.

“It’s been six years, and you’ve done nothing. Not a thing to stop all the shootings that have continued to happen since,” a voice resembling Joaquin’s said in a recording.

“I'm back today because my parents used AI to recreate my voice to call you. Other victims like me will be calling too, again and again, to demand action. How many calls will it take for you to care? How many dead voices will you hear before you finally listen? Every day your inaction creates more voices. If you fail to act now, we'll find somebody who will.”

Patricia Oliver of Change the Ref
Patricia Oliver. Photo courtesy of Change the Ref

Five other messages were generated for the campaign, using the voices of individuals killed by gun violence throughout the past decade, including Ethan Song, Jaycee Webster, Mike Baughan, Uziyah Garcia, and Akilah Dasilva. The Shotline website has a page for family members who have lost their loved ones to gun violence to express interest in submitting voices to the campaign, as well. 

Grieving families were also joined by David Hogg, a co-founder and board member of March For Our Lives, and a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.

“This day never gets easier,” he said, holding back tears. “We have to do more. The movement has to do more. Congress has to do more. Every American has to do more to address this issue.”

He shared his hopes for the campaign — and made a solemn promise to keep in mind the inactions of elected officials during the upcoming election.

Ultimately, as he spoke in agreement and grief with the community in DC, Hogg — and the Olivers — share the same sentiment: Taking action is the only course of action.

“This is a day that will never be forgotten,” Patricia Oliver said. “We believe that taking action is the best way to grieve and to honor the ones that couldn’t be able to be here today.”

From beyond the podium, supporters across the country continue to honor the anniversary alongside the Parkland community.

“Lifting you up,” one person commented on Instagram. “We will never forget.”

“We will never forget the beautiful souls lost on this day,” another said. “Your efforts are not in vain.”

Header image courtesy of Change the Ref/March for Our Lives

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February 14, 2024 9:31 AM
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