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Disinformation is not something new to humans as the very first instances of disinformation can be traced back to ancient times. During the Roman Empire, there were several instances of disinformation being used to sway public opinion.
The Romans have been gone for centuries, but propaganda still remains a relevant tool. Political parties today still rely on the same strategy to sway public opinion. In today’s age, most of the disinformation we have seen is in the form of a text or a misleading image or video.
But today, Generative AI is giving disinformation a whole new dimension. Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, while speaking to a packed auditorium of close to 1,000 in London, said, “Humans are already good at making disinformation, and maybe the GPT models make it easier. But that’s not the thing I’m afraid of. “I think one thing that will be different with AI is the interactive, personalised, persuasive ability of these systems.”
Text-to-image AI models like Stable Diffusion, Midjourney and DALL-E2 can generate hyper realistic images that can easily be mistaken for genuine ones. This technology has opened up possibilities for generating deceptive visual content, further blurring the line between reality and falsehood.
( AI generated image of the Pope)
AI Generated disinformation is one the rise
On Sunday, Delhi Police apprehended Indian wrestlers Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik, Sangeeta Phogat, and Bajrang Punia at Jantar Mantar. Unfortunately, on Twitter, a manipulated image portraying them with smiles after their arrest began circulating. This photo was shared multiple times with the intention of demeaning the wrestlers and undermining the purpose behind their protest.
The wrestlers have been protesting for weeks against Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) president and Kaiserganj BJP MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment.
Similarly, last week, a fabricated image created by AI depicting an explosion near the Pentagon in Washington DC circulated on social media, resulting in unintended consequences for the US stock market. Reputable Indian media outlets such as Republic and News 18 unknowingly played a part in spreading this image, inadvertently contributing to the dissemination of misinformation.
Earlier this year, images of former US president Donald Trump getting arrested went viral on social media, however, later, those images were found to be AI-generated as well.
While a careful examination of the Donald Trump images could reveal that they are fake, it is important to recognise that AI-generated images are continuously improving. A striking illustration of this progress is seen in the photos depicting Pope Francis wearing a Balenciaga puffer jacket. These images are incredibly lifelike, to the point where distinguishing them as AI-generated becomes exceedingly challenging unless explicitly informed about their origin.
In the past, text-to-image models such as Midjourney faced difficulties when generating human hands. With a new update, Midjourney has fixed the problem, however, at the same time, have added to the problem of disinformation.
One of the primary reasons for growing demand for AI regulation is disinformation. Even though the Narendra Modi-led administration has said that they won’t regulate AI, they have not completely turned a blind eye to curbing AI generated disinformation.
The Indian government has confirmed that the upcoming Digital India Act (DIA) will have provisions to deal with AI generated disinformation. “We are not going to regulate AI but we will create guardrails. There will be no separate legislation but a part of DIA will address threats related to high-risk AI,” Union Minister Rajeev Chandrasekhar said.
While the first draft is expected to be released in June, so far we know that the bill proposes to regulate online media platforms and social media intermediaries to prevent the spread of fake news and disinformation.
If such legislation were in effect, Republic and News18 could face legal responsibility for disseminating false information regarding the fabricated Pentagon image. Likewise, Twitter could also be held accountable for the initial post that sparked the spread. This development is positive as it promotes accountability and encourages journalists to conduct diligent fact-checking, thereby reducing the prevalence of inaccurate reporting.
Further, the government is also mulling about the creation of a new body that specifically deals with the issue of fake news or disinformation.
Elections around the corner
The Lok Sabha Elections are scheduled for 2024 and hence it makes it utmost necessary to have regulations in place to deal with AI generated disinformation.
Elections are also scheduled to take place next year in the USA and UK, and experts have already warned that AI-generated disinformation could plague the upcoming elections in the respective countries. With Generative AI coming into the pictures, AI generated disinformation could significantly rise as we approach the election date.
We have already seen deep fake videos being used for political campaigns by the BJP. Besides deep fakes and AI generated hyper-realistic images, AI could be used to create social media bots programmed to automatically generate and disseminate false information. Similarly, AI algorithms can also be used to analyse user data and preferences to deliver tailored disinformation campaigns. While the dangers are aplenty, guardrails are non-existent so far.
Interestingly, many of the Twitter handles sharing the AI generated of the wrestlers in a police van were circulated on Twitter by members affiliated to the ruling party, it was alleged. A study by BBC in 2018 found that those affiliated with BJP are more likely to share fake news or disinformation compared to others.
Earlier this year, BJP vice president Baijayant Jay Panda said that those in politics should start using ChatGPT in an era of rapidly unfolding technologies.
While the government so far has shown intent to fight disinformation, the administration cannot be biassed. In 2021, when Twitter classified a tweet, featuring screenshots of an alleged Congress ‘toolkit’ shared by BJP chief spokesperson Sambit Patra, as “manipulated media”, the Union Government objected to it, and soon Twitter’s office in Delhi was raided by the Police.
As we anticipate the public release of the DIA draft in June, the question remains whether it will provide the necessary measures to combat the escalating threat posed by AI-generated disinformation. Only time will tell if it possesses the strength and effectiveness required to tackle this pressing issue.