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Business News/ Elections / Digital deception? Indian political parties embrace deepfakes for 2024 Lok Sabha Election campaigns
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Digital deception? Indian political parties embrace deepfakes for 2024 Lok Sabha Election campaigns

The increasing use of deepfakes by Indian political parties, including BJP and Congress, to sway voters highlights the evolving role of AI in election campaigns, posing challenges to the democratic process ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections.

Between 2024 March and May, India’s nearly one billion voters will pick their next national government, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two straight terms, in the world’s, and history’s, biggest electionsPremium
Between 2024 March and May, India’s nearly one billion voters will pick their next national government, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's two straight terms, in the world’s, and history’s, biggest elections

The poll bungle has been sounded, as India prepares to witness yet another dance of democracy during the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections. The use of deepfakes has gained prominence as a method to shape or sway the opinions of voters right ahead of crucial elections. While the potential misuse of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in election campaigns raises concerns about the integrity of democratic processes, it brings to life the influence evolving technology has made on something as pivotal as elections in a democratic government. 

Does deepfakes created by AI take away the iota of ‘choice’ from the voters of a nation?

On 30 November 2023, as voters queued up to cast their votes in Telangana, a viral video appeared on their Whatsapp chats. A video that reportedly showed then incumbent Chief Minister and Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) leader KT Rama Rao calling on people to vote in favour of the Congress.

The video was fake.

Congress did win the Telangana Assembly elections and Revanth Reddy took over as Chief Minister of the youngest state of India. 

The strategically timed deployment of deepfakes was a marker of the flood of manipulated media that marred a series of elections in India’s states in recent months, and that’s now threatening to fundamentally shape the country’s coming general elections.

According to an Al Jazeera report, teams across India’s political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the Congress, are deploying deepfakes to influence voters.

In recent months, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), which governs Tamil Nadu, has used AI to resurrect its iconic leader M Karunanidhi from the dead, using lifelike videos of the former movie writer and veteran politician at campaign events.

Between March and May, India’s nearly one billion voters will pick their next national government in the world’s, and history’s, biggest elections. Let's take a look at how and why political parties are grasping at this technological marvel for their gains.

‘Manufacturing Consent’

Noam Chomsky in his magnum opus had pointed out how media, especially in the US "are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion", by means of the propaganda model of communication.

While AI failed to gain prominence in Chomsky's book, we cannot really differentiate between the both, considering the rapid technological evolution that the world has witnessed. 

Deepfakes Used Since 2014

The BJP has been at the forefront of using illusions for campaigning. As far back as 2012, the party used 3D hologram projections of Modi so that he could simultaneously “campaign" in dozens of places at the same time. The strategy was deployed widely during the 2014 general elections that brought Modi to power.

In February 2020, Manoj Tiwari, a BJP MP, became among the world’s first to use deepfakes for campaigning. In three videos, Tiwari addressed voters in Delhi ahead of the capital’s legislative assembly elections in Hindi, Haryanvi and English – reaching three distinct audiences in the multicultural city. Only the Hindi video was authentic: The other two were deepfakes, where AI was used to generate his voice and words and alter his expressions and lip movement to make it almost impossible to detect, just on viewing, that they were not genuine.

Now, political observers have said that the 2024 elections could turbocharge the use of deepfakes even further.

Commoners in Election Campaign Deepfakes

According to an Al Jazeera report, 30-year-old Divyendra Singh Jadoun runs an AI startup, The Indian Deepfaker. Launched in October 2020, his company cloned the voice of Rajasthan state’s Congress chief ministerial candidate Ashok Gehlot for his team to send personalised messages on WhatsApp, addressing each voter by their name, during November Rajasthan Assembly elections.

During the election campaigns for the state legislatures of Madhya Pradesh in central India and Rajasthan in the west last November, police registered multiple cases for deepfake videos targeting senior politicians including Modi, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, Kailash Vijayvargia (all BJP) and Kamal Nath (Congress). The deepfake content production is often outsourced to private consulting firms, which rely on social media networks for distribution, spearheaded by WhatsApp.

How AI is Shaping Opinion of Voters?

According to a campaign manager who talked to Al Jazeera, “Manipulating voters by AI is not being considered a sin by any party," they added. “It is just a part of the campaign strategy."

AI-manipulated audios are particularly valuable tools in smaller constituencies, “targeting candidates with forged call recordings about arranging ‘black money’ for elections or threatening someone to buy votes," the consultant said, whose own candidate was targeted with one such recording. The recordings are generally masked with candidates’ voices to cast them as evidence of corruption.

India has 760 million internet users – more than 50 percent of the population – behind only China.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sayantani Biswas
Sayantani is an editor with Livemint. She covers stories of International and Indian politics, conflict
Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
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Published: 21 Feb 2024, 07:29 PM IST
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