Deepfakes Become Politics as Usual Deepfakes dominate as India's election season unfolds.

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Deepfakes Become Politics as Usual: Deepfakes dominate as India's election season unfolds.

Synthetic depictions of politicians are taking center stage as the world’s biggest democratic election kicks off.

What’s new: India’s political parties have embraced AI-generated campaign messages ahead of the country’s parliamentary elections, which will take place in April and May, Al Jazeera reported.

How it works: Prime Minister Narendra Modi, head of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), helped pioneer the use of AI in campaign videos in 2020. They’ve become common in recent state elections. 

  • The party that governs the state of Tamil Nadu released videos that feature an AI-generated likeness of a leader who died in 2018. The Indian media firm Muonium built the model by training a voice model on the politician’s speeches from the 1990s.
  • In a December state election, the Congress party circulated a video in which its chief opponent, the leader of a rival BRS party, tells voters to choose Congress. BRS said the video was deepfaked.
  • A startup called The Indian Deepfaker has cloned candidates’ voices and produced younger-looking images of them for several parties. In November, the firm cloned the voice of a state leader of the Congress party to send personalized audio messages to potential voters. It rejected more than 50 requests to alter video and audio to target political opponents, including calls to create pornographic material.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan: Neighboring Pakistan was deluged with deepfakes in the run-up to its early-February election. Former prime minister Imran Khan, who has been imprisoned on controversial charges since last year, communicated with followers via a clearly marked AI-generated likeness. However, he found himself victimized by deepfakery when an AI-generated likeness of him, source unknown, urged his followers to boycott the polls. 

Behind the news: Deepfakes have proliferated in India in the absence of comprehensive laws or regulations that govern them. Instead of regulating them directly, government officials have pressured social media operators like Google and Meta to moderate them.

What they’re saying: “Manipulating voters by AI is not being considered a sin by any party,” an anonymous Indian political consultant told Al Jazeera. “It is just a part of the campaign strategy.”

Why it matters: Political deepfakes are quickly becoming a global phenomenon. Parties from Argentinathe United States, and New Zealand have distributed AI-generated imagery or video. But the sheer scale of India’s national election — in which more than 900 million people are eligible to vote — has made it an active laboratory for synthetic political messages. 

We’re thinking: Synthetic media has legitimate political uses, especially in a highly multilingual country like India, where it can enable politicians to communicate with the public in a variety of languages and dialects. But unscrupulous parties can also use it to sow misinformation and undermine trust in politicians and media. Regulations are needed to place guardrails around deepfakes in politics. Requiring identification of generated campaign messages would be a good start.


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