The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) has published an open letter urging electoral candidates, political parties and affiliated organisations to “publicly commit not to use deepfakes technology to create deceptive or misleading synthetic content in the run-up to and during the 2024 general elections.” The letter also requests political parties to take caution against the physical circulation of synthetic content, which can amplify disinformation during election campaigns.
Importantly, the IFF has also highlighted that the obligation to tackle deepfakes-related harms does not rest solely on platforms.
“While much of the focus of the incumbent government is on reiterating the obligations of platforms and identifying regulatory avenues to curb the spread of such content on social media platforms, there is also a pressing need to interrogate the use of deepfakes technology by political actors with the intent to impact electoral outcomes,” the letter noted.
Electoral candidates have used sophisticated channels for campaigning or discrediting rival candidates’ campaigns in the past, but the letter underlined that the advent of generative AI, which is readily and freely available, expands the possibilities of indulging in such tactics. The ensuing disinformation may affect one’s ability to exercise their right to a “free and informed” vote.
Though more research is required to assess the direct impact of synthetic content on electoral outcomes and voting patterns, IFF informed that the use of deepfakes for furthering tailored narratives about political candidates may play a role in influencing voter perspectives, sentiments and thus, voter behaviour. Further, “targeted misuse of the technology against candidates, journalists, and other actors who belong to gender minorities, may further deepen inequities in the election,” it noted.
Why it matters:
Given that the circulation of deepfakes is already on the rise, especially in India, it is important to examine how the technology can be misused by political parties for election campaigns. Currently, politicians in India are already experimenting with deepfakes, particularly for translating their speeches, and campaign promises into regional languages and for creating a positive image of themselves. However, during MediaNama’s discussion on ‘Deepfakes and Democracy’ experts highlighted that such content can also be used for nefarious purposes, for example, using AI capabilities to create deepfakes of opposition leaders or to make a celebrity endorse a certain candidate falsely.
Campaign consultant Shivam Shankar Singh informed that there are two sides to any political content — the content itself and the distribution channel used to spread the content. He explained: “So, as of right now, the distribution channel exists, and political parties have the capacity to push any content that they want to millions and millions of voters across the country. Given that parties already have distribution channels, it would not be very challenging for them to create a flood of deepfakes.” Read more about the discussion here.
Recently, the World Economic Forum also highlighted that AI-based disinformation will likely impact elections across several countries heading for polls in the next two years, such as India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Indonesia.
Following concerns triggered by the circulation of actress Rashmika Mandana’s deepfake video recently, the Indian government is planning to amend the country’s platform regulation law IT Rules 2021 to regulate generative AI and AI companies. The amendment may cover deepfakes and synthetic content and is likely to introduce mandates for platforms to train and check their AI language models for bias related to caste, religion, community, national security and more.
(Disclaimer: MediaNama is one of the signatories to the IFF letter.)
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