Argentina’s recent presidential race was a battleground of AI-generated imagery.
What’s new: Candidates Javier Milei and Sergio Massa flooded social media with generated images of themselves and each other, The New York Times reported. On Sunday, Milei won the election’s final round.
How it works: No candidate earned enough votes to win the first round in late October, so front runners Milei, known for his hard-right libertarian economic views, and Massa, the incumbent government’s center-left economic minister, advanced to a run-off. The candidates generated a deluge of pictures and videos as the final vote neared.
- Milei’s campaign used a custom model based on Stable Diffusion to produce images of himself as a cartoon lion, while Massa’s campaign pictured its own candidate as the fearless Indiana Jones.
- Images posted by Massa’s campaign around Halloween depicted Milei as a zombie. Massa’s campaign also melded his opponent’s likeness into scenes from A Clockwork Orange and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, portraying Milei as psychologically unstable characters in those movies. Milei’s campaign struck back with an image that portrayed Massa in the garb and pose of Mao Zedong, founder of the People’s Republic of China.
- Most of the images were either labeled as AI-generated or obvious fabrications. However, Massa’s campaign posted on Instagram a fake video (since deleted) in which Milei proposed viewing children as a “long-term investment” in the market for human organs. Massa himself later disavowed the video.
- Another candidate used the existence of deepfakes to discredit a recording of her economic adviser apparently trading a job for sexual favors. The candidate noted that it’s easy to fake voices. The recording’s veracity has not been established.
What they’re saying: “I absolutely think it's a slippery slope. In a year from now, what already seems very realistic will only seem more so.” — Isabelle Frances-Wright, head of technology and society, Institute for Strategic Dialogue.
Behind the news: Deepfakes have appeared in campaign ads in India and South Korea. Earlier this year, Google mandated that advertisers in a number of democratic countries including Argentina clearly label AI-generated imagery in political ads distributed through Google ads, part of a global policy change. Meta will require that political advertisers clearly label AI-generated media in their ads beginning in 2024. Generated images in Argentina’s presidential campaign circulated on Meta’s Instagram network ahead of the deadline.
Why it matters: Argentina’s presidential campaign offers a glimpse of the future for democracies across the globe. Image generators are widely available, and political forces have proven willing to use them. AI-generated depictions of candidates may undermine voters’ trust in the media as a whole whether or not they’re intended to deceive, political scientists worry.
We’re thinking: Generated media poses a conundrum for democracy. Advertising has been shown to influence people even when audience members are aware of the effort to persuade. Yet free speech is essential to a healthy society. We favor mandatory labeling generated media in political ads and strong protection against defamation in hope that these measures will stem the most flagrant abuses.