Unprepared for generative AI’s impact on elections.

Unprepared for generative AI's impact on elections.

The Art of Political Deception: From Deepfakes to Generative AI

Crying George Washington

Have you heard the one about George Washington not supporting the Revolutionary War? While serving as a general leading the rebel forces, George Washington was convinced that the American War of Independence was a mistake. He was “far from being sure that we deserve to succeed.” In 1777, a soldier serving under British General Oliver De Lancey found a trunk belonging to General Washington. The trunk contained a series of letters in Washington’s own hand that told of his desire for reconciliation with England and even, “I love my king.” The trunk was found in the hands of Washington’s valet and enslaved person, William Lee, when Lee was captured by the British. This tangible proof seemed to suggest that even Washington himself didn’t support the war.

Except…it was all a carefully crafted forgery, the 18th-century equivalent of deepfakes. William Lee never left Washington’s side during the Revolutionary War, and the letters were completely fabricated. These forgeries haunted Washington to the point where he wrote a letter to refute them as one of his last acts in office. This shows that political deception is not a new phenomenon and has been prevalent throughout history.

The Rise of Disinformation and Generative AI

Fast forward to 2018, disinformation remains a burning issue, and generative AI has taken it to new heights. The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election revealed a Kremlin-backed disinformation campaign. More than 3,500 ads containing fake claims were produced and purchased by a Russian troll farm, with an additional “80,000 pieces of organic” social media content aimed at disrupting the American political system. This highlights the extensive use of disinformation as a political weapon.

But disinformation is not limited to text-based content. In 2019, a manipulated video of then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi went viral. The video had been edited to make Pelosi appear intoxicated, demonstrating the power of modified videos in spreading disinformation. Deepfakes, or AI-generated videos, have emerged as a concerning tool in political campaigns.

The Weaponization of Generative AI

Generative AI has opened up new possibilities for political campaigns to utilize disinformation tactics. It can be used to create fake imagery, compose ads and letters, customize mass outreach efforts, and perform trend and sentiment analysis for insights. Campaigns can now automate disinformation campaigns by leveraging large language models equipped with AI and deepfake technologies.

The implications of generative AI in campaigns extend beyond presidential races. While presidential campaigns have substantial budgets, smaller campaigns often struggle with limited resources. Generative AI tools provide smaller campaigns with analytics capabilities that were previously only accessible to campaigns with significant funding. This levels the playing field, enabling even the smallest campaigns to deploy sophisticated disinformation campaigns.

The Art of Political Deception

Not every use of generative AI in campaigns is meant to weaponize it. There are four main categories of generative AI use in campaigns, only one of which has purely negative implications:

  1. Deepfakes and forgeries: The most destructive category, involving the creation of fake information, images, and videos to deceive the public.
  2. Composing ads and letters: AI assists campaign staff in crafting persuasive content, even if it contains falsehoods or misrepresentations.
  3. Customized mass outreach: Generative AI enables campaigns to tailor their communications to individual prospects on a large scale, maximizing the effectiveness of their messaging.
  4. Trend analysis for insights: AI-powered data mining tools help campaigns gain valuable insights into voter sentiments and behaviors.

Despite the potential dangers, generative AI is also viewed with a sense of concern among political elites. They understand its power and the impact it can have on political campaigns. However, this doesn’t deter them from leveraging the technology to their advantage.

The Impact Down the Ticket

While presidential campaigns draw significant attention, the true impact of generative AI lies in smaller campaigns. These campaigns have smaller budgets and must utilize resources creatively. Generative AI allows them to employ disinformation tactics previously reserved for larger campaigns, amplifying their reach and influence.

Ultimately, the use of generative AI in politics is not limited to specific parties or nation-states. The widespread availability of AI tools makes it easier for various actors to carry out influence operations, creating a challenging digital environment for truth-seeking voters.

As we move forward, we are bound to see an increase in disinformation campaigns fueled by AI technology. However, it is important to note that while AI may provide the means for deception, it does not guarantee victory. The outcome of any campaign is still determined by various factors, and the electorate has the power to discern truth from falsehoods.

Stay Vigilant

Political deception is as old as the birth of nations. The advent of generative AI has raised the stakes, enabling the creation of sophisticated disinformation campaigns. We must remain vigilant and critical consumers of information, questioning the authenticity of what we see and hear in the political realm. By arming ourselves with the power of critical thinking, we can navigate the landscape of political deceit and make informed decisions.

So, does all this make you want to cry? Well, remember, George Washington wept here.

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