How Deepfakes are Threatening India’s Political Processes

The potential misuse of artificial intelligence (AI) tools such as deepfakes to spread misinformation and manipulate public opinion in politics is becoming an increasing concern globally.

Deepfakes refer to the use of advanced technology to manipulate audio and video to show people saying or doing things that they never said or did, with malicious intent. In India, although such tools have not been deployed in a significant way in the political arena, experts warn that it may only be a matter of time.

The recent case of Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan claiming that viral audio clips of him accusing leaders of the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam of corruption and praising the Bharatiya Janata Party were fabricated with the help of advanced technology such as deepfake has brought the issue to the fore. The potential for such tools to blur the line between reality and fiction and to build false narratives that can manipulate public opinion is immense.

In February 2020, during the Delhi Assembly election, the Bharatiya Janata Party disseminated two deepfake videos of its leader Manoj Tiwari speaking in English and Haryanvi and attacking the Aam Aadmi Party. The original video, from December 2019, did not have him speaking about the Aam Aadmi party or the election. Tiwari’s deepfake videos had been shared in over 5,800 WhatsApp groups by the party itself and had reached around 15 million people. In April 2021, the Gujarat Police arrested a 28-year-old man for creating a deepfake clip of Vijay Rupani, then the state’s chief minister, singing a song by American artist Taylor Swift. Although in this instance it was not the handiwork of political rivals, fact-checkers pointed out that political parties usually disseminated such content to ridicule their opponents.

Deepfake and similar AI tools are a major challenge in the battle against political misinformation. The deepfakes we are seeing right now can be identified because they have anomalies that can be seen with naked eyes. However, as the technology gets better, it may become increasingly difficult to detect deepfakes. The expected surge in misinformation generated through AI is a matter of worry, and this technology is outstripping any safeguard we have against misinformation. It is, therefore, crucial to create public awareness about such tools, how they can be abused to build false narratives, and how they can blur the line between reality and fiction.

Public awareness is key to stopping such misinformation from influencing electoral politics. Detecting deepfakes should not be left to the public alone, and people must be urged to carry out basic fact-checking as they should with other forms of misinformation. In addition, the Election Commission should play an active role in stopping malicious AI tools from being used to influence elections. Prohibiting media manipulation and the use of generative AI in electoral processes and employing prebunking, debunking, and collaborative fact-checking as has been done in some countries can be a solution.

The potential for the misuse of AI tools such as deepfakes to manipulate public opinion and spread misinformation in Indian politics is a significant concern. It is crucial to create public awareness about such tools and how they can be abused to build false narratives that can manipulate public opinion. To address this issue, it is essential to promote basic fact-checking, urge the Election Commission to play an active role, and prohibit media manipulation and the use of generative AI in electoral processes. Failure to act may lead to a “deepfake election” in India’s future.

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