Deepfake tech reared its digitally altered head in Indian politics, but with a twist: Altered images of a politician were produced by his own campaign.

What happened: On the eve of a legislative assembly election, the local branch of India’s national ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, released a video of its local leader criticizing the opposition in a language he does not speak, according to Vice.

How it works: The BJP hired a local company, Ideaz Factory, to feature Delhi BJP president Manoj Tiwar in a video aimed at voters who speak Haryanvi, a Hindi dialect spoken by many of the city’s migrant workers.

  • Tiwari recorded a clip in which he accuses his opponents, in Hindi, of breaking campaign promises. A voice actor translated his words into Haryanvi, and Ideaz Factory used a GAN to transfer the actor’s mouth and jaw motions onto Tiwari’s face. Experts at the Rochester Institute of Technology quoted by Vice believe the company based its model on Nvidia’s vid2vid.
  • The party released the altered video to thousands of WhatsApp groups, reaching as many as 15 million people. Then it commissioned a second deepfake of Tiwari speaking English.
  • The BJP later called the effort a “test,” not an official part of its social media campaign. Encouraged by what it characterized as positive reactions from viewers, Ideaz Factory hopes to apply its approach to upcoming elections in India and the U.S.

Why it matters: Deepfakery’s political debut in India was relatively benign: It helped the ruling party reach speakers of a minority language, possibly fooling them into thinking Tiwar spoke their tongue. Nonetheless, experts worry that politicians could use the technology to supercharge propaganda, and malefactors could use it to spur acts of violence.

We’re thinking: We urge teams that create deepfakes to clearly disclose their work and avoid misleading viewers. As it happened, the fakery didn’t help much: The BJP won only eight of 70 parliamentary seats in the Delhi election.

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