Artificial Intelligence Deepfakes and Declining Social Media Safeguards: The New Threats to Elections

JJohn December 28, 2023 7:03 AM

As artificial intelligence (AI) technology advances, creating 'deepfakes' becomes easier. Meanwhile, social media platforms, once stalwarts against misinformation, are becoming less stringent, causing experts to voice their concerns about the potential impacts on future elections.

Persistent election conspiracy theories

Despite the passing of almost three years since the infamous U.S. Capitol riot, election conspiracy theories continue to permeate social media and cable news outlets. Even more concerning, these unfounded narratives are growing stronger. Traditional safeguards designed to counteract such misinformation are steadily eroding, while the tools and systems that create and propagate them are becoming increasingly sophisticated and potent.

AI tools facilitating misinformation

The role of generative artificial intelligence tools in disseminating misinformation is becoming alarmingly significant. These tools have made it considerably less expensive and more straightforward to circulate deceptive information, creating a fertile environment for misleading voters, potentially swaying election outcomes. As these tools become more accessible, the threat they pose to election integrity intensifies.

Rise of AI deepfakes in politics

2024 is set to be the first U.S. presidential election where AI deepfakes - fabricated images, audio clips, and videos - could play a substantial role. As AI tools capable of producing convincing fakes become increasingly accessible, the likelihood of these deepfakes being used to mislead voters escalates. These manipulated media could disseminate false narratives about political candidates, potentially influencing voters' choices and the overall election outcome.

Social media's fading fight against misinformation

Social media companies, which were once heavily invested in correcting misinformation, seem to be shifting their focus. This shift has resulted in the erosion of mechanisms designed to counteract misinformation on these platforms. In turn, the potential for misinformation to spread unchecked has surged, creating an environment ripe for election interference. Actions such as gutting moderation teams and restoring previously banned accounts have contributed to this concerning trend.

Recent developments at major social media platforms have further weakened the fight against misinformation. Policy changes, including the removal of protections against hate speech and misinformation, along with mass layoffs at companies like X, Meta, and YouTube, have drastically reduced these platforms' capacity to moderate content. Such changes set a potentially dangerous precedent for the 2024 elections, with a shrinking workforce less equipped to tackle the anticipated surge in misinformation.

The emergence and popularity of less regulated platforms, such as TikTok, Telegram, Truth Social, and Gab, pose a significant threat to accurate information spread. These platforms, along with private messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat, create isolated information ecosystems where unverified claims can propagate unabated. This can lead to the spread of misinformation, further undermining election integrity.

Potential Trump candidacy: a threat to election integrity

Misinformation researchers are apprehensive about Donald Trump's potential candidacy in the upcoming Republican presidential primary. Given his history of promoting unfounded claims about election fraud, his involvement could significantly exacerbate the spread of misinformation. The former President's persistent false claims and attempts to prime his supporters for suspected fraud could lead to an increase in election vigilantism or even violence.

In response to the growing threat of election denial narratives, election officials are taking proactive measures to combat misinformation effectively. Efforts include launching informative campaigns on social media and TV to emphasize the credibility of election workers, thereby inoculating voters against misinformation. Additionally, initiatives like the #TrustedInfo2024 by the National Association of Secretaries of State are underway to promote election officials as reliable sources for election information in 2024.

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