Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (2024)

Muthuvel Karunanidhi, an iconic Indian actor-turned-politician, made a surprising appearance in January ahead of the Indian election.

Clad in his trademark black sunglasses, white shirt and yellow shawl, he is seen in a video congratulating a friend and fellow politician on the launch of their autobiography.

In the eight-minute speech, the patriarch of politics in the southern state of Tamil Nadu also took the opportunity to praise the stable leadership of MK Stalin, his son and the current leader of the state.

It’s a powerful endorsem*nt, especially considering Karunanidhi died in 2018.

Deepfakes are videos, images or audio clips made with artificial intelligence that mimic a person's likeness or voice.

While they can be used for fun, they can also be made to deliberately mislead people, which is what appears to be happening during the Indian election campaign.

In another video that surfaced in recent months, Bollywood star Aamir Khan is heard mocking India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for failing to deliver a decade-old promise to deposit 1.5 million Indian rupees ($27,000) into the bank accounts of every Indian citizen.

It ends with his endorsem*nt of the opposition Congress Party.

The voice in the video resembles Khan's but has been artificially manipulated.

A spokesperson clarified that while the actor had raised electoral awareness through campaigns in the past, he has never promoted a specific political party.

Divyendra Singh Jadoun who gained fame under the YouTube channel, The Indian Deepfaker is no stranger to such content after doing work in film and advertisem*nts.

His firm Polymath Synthetic Media Solutions is one of many deepfake service providers catering to political parties and this year his team's been bombarded with requests.

"The first conversation was can you do a deepfake of an opponent political leader?" Mr Jadoun said.

Representatives of India's political parties have asked Mr Jadoun to manipulate audio of opposition candidates making gaffes during the campaign and superimpose their faces onto sexually explicit content.

He's even been asked by one party to create a low-quality fake video of their own candidate, which would be used to counter any damning real videos that emerge during the campaign.

Out of 200 requests he received, Mr Jadoun says the majority were unethical and rejected by his team.

"We won't be creating any content that is used to defame anyone or put [question] marks on some opponent leader," he said.

How AI-generated content can be ethically used in campaigns

Mr Jadoun's team creates AI-generated videos to help increase the reach of personal messages.

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (1)

For example, he can shoot a 15-minute video with a party leader and use it to build an avatar that can deliver calls and video messages to hundreds of thousands of individual party workers.

The messages can be personalised to address everyone by name, and be delivered in any of the country's 22 languages.

"It's not possible for the party leader to address each and every party worker," Mr Jadoun said.

He says his team has worked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's BJP as well as their main opponent, the Congress Party, and regional heavyweights on developing AI tools to help recognise the efforts of volunteers.

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (2)

As a former student politician, the 31-year-old is used to giving rousing speeches in front of large crowds and travelling across his state, Rajasthan, to develop his network.

He knows what an effective campaign needs and says a candidate's chance of winning an election depends on the hard work of their party cadre.

"If you consider politics as a company, this is the only company in the world where its employees are working for completely free …," Mr Jadoun said.

"The only thing that they need is recognition from the particular party leader."

Technology has changed political campaigning

Mr Jadoun says when he first started in 2021, it would take him between seven to 12 days to make a low quality deepfake, which was one minute long.

Now the technology has advanced so rapidly, anyone can make one in minutes.

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (3)

"Even if they have no knowledge of coding, there are so many websites," he said.

"They just have to put a single image and a video where they want to swap the face and it can create the deepfake video in just less than three minutes."

Political consultant Sagar Vishnoi, who pioneered the use of AI in Indian politics and worked on the country's first high-profile political deepfake back in 2020, says the technology has changed campaigning.

He said it has made it 50 times cheaper and estimates over the next five years, 80 per cent of campaigns will be driven by AI.

"Eight-hundred million people are connected to the internet and the data rates are so cheap," he said.

"Political parties have such good network and distribution channels within themselves, that they can reach out to more masses."

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (4)

Mr Vishnoi, who runs workshops and awareness campaigns teaching law enforcement to fight deepfakes, says there is potential for serious misuse of the technology.

"[If] AI holds power to connect billions of people, it holds the power to create misinformation in 10 seconds," he said.

"It can even create riots or disturb the social fabric of the nation, by making political leaders speak about some religion or caste."

Women and marginalised groups are particularly vulnerable to deepfakes

Women and marginalised groups from conservative and religious countries are particularly vulnerable to deepfakes.

In Bangladesh, deepfake videos of female opposition politicians — including Rumin Farhana in a bikini and Nipun Roy in a swimming pool — undermined their campaigns when they emerged ahead of general elections in January this year.

The content seeks to change the perception of the voter, and specifically the voter's psychology, according to Mr Vishnoi.

The greatest challenge in countering unethical deepfakes is confirmation bias, according to Jaskirat Singh Bawa, global head of operations for fact-checking organisation Logically Facts.

"It is very difficult to change the mind of somebody who is willing to believe a lie as long as it furthers their own beliefs," he said.

"Right now we have a very heated election season going on, where a lot of individuals, political entities, parties, as well as, possibly even foreign actors stand to gain from the the discourse becoming very toxic and very contentious."

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (5)

Mr Bawa said the claims he has come across were usually about attributing malice and anti-national sentiments to members of the opposition party.

But he said all parties spread disinformation.

"When it comes to supporters of any particular political ideology, as long as there's information however false it may be that conforms to their biases, they are willingly spread[ing] it," he said.

"It just so happens right now that the power equations are in favour of the ruling dispensation, which automatically leads to more and more people sharing more information that is getting endorsed by, let's say, supporters of the ruling party."

Divyendra Jadoun said there are a few ways to spot a deepfake, including checking the hairline of the person in the photo or video, paying attention to the movement around the eyes, or looking for any strange shadows.

But he said there was no substitute for intuition.

"Our instinct is better than any detection algorithm that is out there," Mr Jadoun said.

"If you look closely, we get to see it's a deepfake. But the issue is that people want to believe what they want to believe," he said.

Are deepfakes the frightening future of election campaigns? India is already there (2024)


Is deepfake legal in India? ›

Another part of the IT Act is Section 66E. Deep fake crimes also violate this Section as the person's privacy is breached for capturing, publishing or transmitting their images in mass media. “This offence is punishable with imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh,” says Agarwal.

What is the future of deepfakes? ›

Where might the deepfake threat go in the future? Deepfakes continue to pose a threat for individuals and industries, including potential large- scale impacts to nations, governments, businesses, and society, such as social media disinformation campaigns operated at scale by well-funded nation state actors.

What is an active threat example of deepfake campaigns? ›

An example of an active threat involving deepfake campaigns using Artificial Intelligence (AI) would be the creation of seemingly authentic videos or audio recordings with the intention to spread misinformation during a political campaign.

Is deepfake a threat? ›

Social engineering Deep fake processes can also be used to carry out targeted phishing attacks (spear phishing) to gain information and data. An attacker can also use this technology to carry out fraud and siphon off financial resources.

Can deepfake be detected? ›

Conversely, Pindrop's deepfake detection technology has a 99% success rate. Verification algorithms can also be more successful in detecting deepfake images (like passport photos or mugshots), achieving accuracy scores as high as 99.97% on standard assessments like NIST's Facial Recognition Vendor Test (FRVT).

What is the punishment for deepfakes? ›

An offence under this provision carries a penalty of up to three years imprisonment and/or a fine of ₹1 lakh. Further, Sections 67, 67A, and 67B of the IT Act can be used to prosecute individuals for publishing or transmitting deepfakes that are obscene or contain any sexually explicit acts.

What is being done to stop deepfakes? ›

Researchers are developing new ways to detect deepfakes, such as AI models that spot color abnormalities. And authentication methods, like digital watermarks, can help prove that a video or image has been altered. But simply detecting deepfakes may not be enough to prevent harm.

What is the solution against deepfakes? ›

Multimodal Biometrics:

Multimodal biometrics involves combining multiple biometric authentication methods to enhance security. By using a combination of facial recognition, voice recognition, and behavioral biometrics, for example, multimodal biometric systems can provide a more robust defense against deepfake threats.

Can deepfakes be banned? ›

Existing rules in the UK and some US states already ban the creation and/or dissemination of deepfakes. The FTC would make it illegal for AI platforms to create content that impersonates people and would allow the agency to force scammers to return the money they made from such scams.

How to protect yourself from deepfakes? ›

Use trustworthy antivirus and anti-malware software that incorporate features to protect against phishing attacks and suspicious activities, Kaskade says. Some software now also offers protection against identity theft and can alert you to potential deepfake scams.

What is the unethical use of deepfakes? ›

Deepfakes can also create misinformation and confusion about important issues. Further, deepfake technology can fuel other unethical actions like creating revenge p*rn, where women are disproportionately harmed.

What is an example of a deep fake? ›

One benign example is a video that appears to show soccer star David Beckham fluently speaking nine different languages, when he actually only speaks one. Another fake shows Richard Nixon giving the speech he prepared in the event that the Apollo 11 mission failed and the astronauts didn't survive.

Should we be worried about deepfakes? ›

A “deepfake” is fabricated hyper-realistic digital media, including video, image, and audio content. Not only has this technology created confusion, skepticism, and the spread of misinformation, deepfakes also pose a threat to privacy and security.

Is watching deepfake a crime? ›

Watching deepfakes is not illegal in itself, except in cases where the content involves unlawful material, such as child p*rnography. Existing legislation primarily targets the creation and distribution of deepfakes, especially when these actions involve non-consensual p*rnography.

What is the bad side of deepfakes? ›

By enabling the creation of convincing yet fraudulent content, Deepfake technology has the potential to undermine trust, propagate misinformation, and facilitate cybercrimes with profound societal consequences.

Can you go to jail for deepfakes? ›

Adding to existing laws

Indiana, Texas and Virginia in the past few years have enacted broad laws with penalties of up to a year in jail plus fines for anyone found guilty of sharing deepfake p*rnography. In Hawaii, the punishment is up to five years in prison.

Is it illegal to create a deepfake? ›

Is it illegal to make a deepfake? The legality of creating deepfakes largely depends on the intent and usage. Nonconsensual deepfake p*rnography, defamatory deepfakes, or those causing emotional distress can be illegal. The creation of deepfakes involving public figures can also trigger legal implications.

Do you need permission to deepfake someone? ›

The Copyright Act provides copyright protection for works, including films, music, and creative content. Individuals infringing upon copyrights by creating deepfakes using copyrighted works without permission can face legal action under this act.

What states is deepfake legal? ›

Some states, like Michigan and Minnesota, have extended that window to 90 days. Other states like California and Utah require that political deepfakes be labeled but don't ban them outright. States that have passed laws prohibiting, or requiring disclosure of, election-related deepfakes: California (2019 and 2022)


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