AI, deepfakes, and YouTube influencers reshape Indian election landscape

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AI, deepfakes, and YouTube influencers reshape Indian election landscape
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The rise of AI-generated content has brought a new dimension to the ongoing mammoth India elections.

With over 800 million internet users, political parties are leveraging artificial intelligence to connect with voters in unprecedented ways.

From AI-created avatars delivering personalized messages to AI-powered chatbots mimicking the voices of political leaders, the aim is clear: to influence voter behaviour on a massive scale.

Driving through the bustling streets of New Delhi recently, I couldn’t help but notice the digital billboards displaying eerily lifelike AI-generated videos of politicians.

Technology is reshaping the electoral landscape

A popular Indian YouTuber, who did not want to be named, notes,

The integration of AI in political campaigns is transforming how parties communicate with voters, making their outreach more direct and seemingly personal.

Social media and communication platforms are poised to become the primary conduits for deceptive generative AI-based content, regardless of their intentions. Given the low barriers to entry and the high dependency on these platforms, it’s inevitable that they will be exploited for the dissemination of misleading information.

In environments where ease of access and widespread usage prevail, the propagation of AI-generated misinformation is almost certain.

This trend underscores the pressing need for robust measures to safeguard the integrity of India’s general elections from the threats posed by deepfakes and disinformation.

But disinformation and its impacts are already apparent

Despite the innovative uses of AI, disinformation remains a significant challenge.

The Indian Election Commission has warned against using AI to spread false information, but regulatory measures are limited.

Deepfake videos featuring Bollywood stars Ranveer Singh and Aamir Khan criticizing the government went viral before being debunked.

Another video falsely depicted Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi resigning, using his AI-cloned voice.

The YouTuber adds,

The speed at which AI-generated content can spread false information is alarming. It’s a powerful tool that, if misused, can significantly impact public perception and trust.

Religion at play

In early March, a realistic AI-generated image of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, styled as Bhishma Pitamah from the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, was promoted as a political advertisement on Instagram.

The image, featuring Modi with long wavy grey hair, a sun-shaped mark on his forehead, and donning body armour, depicted him as a reincarnation of Bhishma, the supreme commander who fought against foreign threats.

Created by the right-wing page Hokage Modi Sama and first posted in 2023, this image was boosted as a political advertisement for two days in March, garnering more than 35,000 impressions.

The common theme across all images shared by Hokage Modi Sama was the valorization of Modi as a Hindu leader. Popular AI images boosted through sponsored posts featured Modi as a reincarnation of Bhishma, a suit-wearing son of god, and the King of Hindu Rashtra, embracing Hindu heritage and garnering millions of likes and views.

Hindu Rashtra is a contentious ideology advocating for a Hindu-majoritarian rule of India, diverging from its secular founding principles.

Personalized AI campaigns

In constituencies with approximately two million voters each, personalized AI campaigns are becoming more common.

AI avatars addressing voters by name and AI chatbots calling constituents in the voices of political leaders are strategies used to create a direct and personalized connection with voters.

These methods aim to enhance voter engagement and influence voting behaviour.

India, with the world’s largest number of YouTube and Instagram users, sees political parties increasingly mobilizing social media influencers to sway voters. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been particularly proactive.

In March, the Prime Minister awarded 24 prominent social media influencers at the National Creators Award ceremony, promoting the government’s narrative.

The role of YouTube influencers

A political commentator observed, “The use of social media influencers in political campaigns blurs the lines between genuine political discourse and promotional content. It raises questions about the authenticity of the messages being delivered to the public.”

State units of the BJP have been organizing influencer meetings to disseminate the government’s achievements. Prominent politicians and ministers have participated in interviews with influencers, further integrating these personalities into their campaign strategies.

The impact of AI on voter behaviour

The critical question remains: Can AI and deepfake content significantly change voter behaviour?

Prateek Waghre, Executive Director of the Internet Freedom Foundation, points out that in the Indian context, political parties already rely heavily on narratives and misleading messages.

The additional impact of synthetic content is still uncertain. However, the potential for AI to influence young voters is notable. AI-generated content, such as videos of Prime Minister Modi singing popular Tamil songs, has helped expand his reach and portray him as a more approachable leader.

The future of AI in elections

As AI technology continues to evolve, its role in elections is likely to grow. The affordability and accessibility of AI tools mean that political campaigns can produce personalized and persuasive content at scale. However, the ethical implications and potential for misuse pose significant challenges.

The use of AI, deepfakes, and social media influencers in the Indian elections represents a significant shift in political campaigning.

While these tools offer innovative ways to engage voters, they also raise concerns about disinformation and ethical practices.

Narendra Modi, in a chat with Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) co-founder Bill Gates in March, said:

In a democratic and large country like India , if someone uses deepfake, for example they use my voice over a nasty video, then people will believe at first, it will lead to a wildfire. Therefore it is important that deepfake and AI generated mention sources to start with in the beginning. We will have to seriously think about some Dos and Donts.

As India navigates this digital election landscape, the balance between innovation and integrity will be crucial in ensuring a fair and democratic process.

The data suggests that AI’s impact on voter behaviour is growing, but its full potential and implications are yet to be fully understood.

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