AI, Deepfakes and Misinformation in Indian Elections - Latest Global News

AI, Deepfakes and Misinformation in Indian Elections

In November last year, Muralikrishnan Chinnadurai was watching a livestream of a Tamil-language event in the UK when he noticed something strange.

A woman introduced as Duwaraka, daughter of Velupillai Prabhakaran, the leader of the Tamil Tigers, gave a speech.

The problem was that Duwaraka had died more than a decade earlier in an airstrike in 2009 in the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war. The body of the then 23-year-old was never found.

And now here she was – seemingly a middle-aged woman – exhorting Tamils ​​around the world to advance the political struggle for their freedom.

Mr. Chinnadurai, a fact-checker in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, watched the video closely, noticed errors in the video and soon thought it was an artificial intelligence (AI)-generated character.

The potential problems were immediately clear to Mr. Chinnadurai: “This is an emotive issue in the state.” [Tamil Nadu] And with the election just around the corner, misinformation could spread quickly.”

As India goes to the polls, there is no escaping the need to create a wealth of AI-generated content – from campaign videos to personalized audio messages in various Indian languages ​​to automated calls to voters using a candidate’s voice.

Content creators like Shahid Sheikh have even had fun using AI tools to show Indian politicians in avatars we’ve never seen them in before: in sportswear, playing music, and dancing.

But as tools become more sophisticated, experts worry about the impact of making fake news seem real.

“Rumors have always been a part of the election campaign. [But] In the age of social media, it can spread like wildfire,” said SY Qureshi, the country’s former chief election commissioner.

“It can actually set the country on fire.”

AI images of Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee

These images (from left) of opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and Mamata Banerjee were created using AI tools by content creator Shahid Sheikh on Instagram [Sahixd]

India’s political parties are not the first in the world to take advantage of recent developments in AI. Shortly behind the Pakistani border, the imprisoned politician Imran Khan was able to speak at a rally.

And in India itself Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also already made the most of new technology to run an effective campaign – targeting an audience in Hindi, which was then translated into Tamil in real time using the government-created AI tool Bhashini.

But it can also be used to manipulate words and messages.

Last month, two viral videos showed Bollywood stars Ranveer Singh and Aamir Khan campaigning for the opposition Congress Party. Both of them filed a police report, claiming they were deepfakes made without their consent.

Then, on April 29, Prime Minister Modi expressed concern that AI could be used to distort speeches by senior leaders of the ruling party, including himself.

The next day, police arrested two people, one each from the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Congress party, in connection with a doctored video of Home Minister Amit Shah.

Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has also faced similar allegations from opposition leaders in the country.

AI images of Prime Minister Modi and Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi created by content creator Sahixd for his Instagram pageAI images of Prime Minister Modi and Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi created by content creator Sahixd for his Instagram page

AI images of Prime Minister Modi and Opposition Leader Rahul Gandhi created by content creator Sahixd for his Instagram page [Sahixd]

The problem is that despite the arrests, there is no comprehensive regulation, experts say.

Which means: “If you get caught doing something wrong, the best you can get is a slap on the wrist,” said Srinivas Kodali, a data and security researcher.

In the absence of regulation, creators told the BBC they would have to rely on their personal ethics to decide what type of work they would or would not do.

The BBC learned that demands from politicians included pornographic images and the falsification of videos and audios of their rivals to damage their reputations.

“I was once asked to make an original look like a deepfake because the original video, if shared widely, would make the politician look bad,” reveals Divyendra Singh Jadoun.

“So his team wanted me to create a deepfake that they could pass off as the original.”

Mr. Jadoun, founder of The Indian Deepfaker (TID), which has developed tools to help people use open-source AI software to create campaign materials for Indian politicians, insists everything he makes comes with disclaimers to make it clear that it is not real.

But it is still difficult to control.

A supporter of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan listens to a virtual election campaign on the phoneA supporter of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan listens to a virtual election campaign on the phone

In Pakistan, imprisoned politician Imran Khan used AI to address a rally [Getty Images]

Mr. Sheikh, who works for a marketing agency in the eastern state of West Bengal, has seen his work shared on social media by politicians or political pages without permission or attribution.

“A politician used an image I created of Mr Modi without context and without mentioning that it was created using AI,” he says.

And it’s now so easy to create a deepfake that anyone can do it.

“What used to take us seven or eight days to create, we can now do in three minutes,” explains Mr. Jadoun. “All you need is a computer.”

In fact, the BBC was able to experience first-hand how easy it is to initiate a fake phone call between two people – in this case, between me and the former US President.

Despite the risks, India initially said it was not considering legislation on AI. However, it took action in March this year after an uproar over Google’s Gemini chatbot’s answer to the question: “Is Modi a fascist?”

Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the country’s junior information technology minister, said it violated the country’s IT laws.

Since then, the Indian government has asked tech companies to seek its explicit permission before publicly launching “unreliable” or “under-tested” generative AI models or tools. She also warned against reactions from these tools that “endanger the integrity of the electoral process.”

But that’s not enough: Fact-checkers say keeping up with debunking such content is a difficult task, especially during elections when misinformation reaches a peak.

“Information travels at a speed of 100 km/h,” says Mr. Chinnadurai, who heads a media watchdog in Tamil Nadu. “The debunked information we are disseminating will be traveling at a speed of 20 km/h.”

And these fakes are even making their way into the mainstream media, says Mr. Kodali. Nevertheless, the “Election Commission is publicly silent on AI”.

“There are no general rules,” says Mr. Kodali. “They’re letting the tech industry regulate itself instead of making actual regulations.”

There is no foolproof solution in sight, experts say.

“But [for now] Taking action against people who forward fakes could deter others from passing on unverified information,” says Mr Qureshi.

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