Deepfakes and influencers: India’s digital election

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By Creative Media News

  • Deepfakes used to manipulate Indian election campaigns
  • Concerns over ethical use and potential impact on democracy
  • Rise of digital influencers and alternative platforms in Indian politics

In the midst of India’s ongoing elections, individuals have generated AI-generated videos featuring Bollywood actors endorsing political parties in a fraudulent manner.

Divyendra Jadoun takes great pride in his pseudonym, “Indian Deepfaker.” 

“I am certain we employ deepfakes,” he asserts. “Why would I use something else?”

Furthermore, Jadoun’s services have been in high demand recently as India gets ready for elections that many predict will be the biggest democratic contest in history.

Deepfakes have made an appearance in unexpected ways. They have been malevolent at times. People have inaccurately portrayed Bollywood actors as endorsing a political party or criticizing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“We received a large number of requests in November and October,” says Jadoun. Additionally, between forty-five and fifty percent of those requests were for unethical [deepfakes]. Furthermore, there are two distinct types of petitions.

“One is to replace the political leader’s face with his own and include it in a contentious video that could be detrimental to his reputation.” The second form of illicit deepfake involves duplicating the opponent’s voice in order to coerce him into saying something he has never said before.

We will be using deepfakes on a significant scale for the first time. It is indeed a novel concept, even to us.

We don’t know whether or not it will have an effect, let alone how much.

Conversely, some argue that the influence of deepfakes has been unexpectedly positive, citing the rapidity with which they are debunked and the relatively low number of views that these videos typically receive.

“There was a concern that deepfake-like content would be utilized more for adversarial purposes, but the opposite is occurring,” explains University of Michigan associate professor of information Joyojeet Pal.

Political campaigns are significantly increasing their use of artificially generated content for their own benefit.

Observe the resurgence of M. Karunanidhi, an activist who passed away in 2018. During the campaign trail, Senthil Nayagam, a technologist, proceeded to circulate a deepfake of him in support of numerous candidates.

“With this video, we inadvertently initiated a trend,” Nayagam explains.

The Indian deepfaker has developed another system that showcases the innovative potential of deepfakes.

“As part of our conversational agent initiative, you will receive a call in the leader’s voice,” he continues. “It will declare myself to be an AI-generated avatar of this leader, and he will adopt the individual’s name.”

He will inquire, ‘What are the salient local concerns in your vicinity?'” or “Could you kindly provide the government with your suggestions?” Each conversation will be recorded.

The data will subsequently undergo transcription and filtration according to various criteria, enabling the government or political parties to formulate manifestos or devise schemes in accordance with the identified issues.

Continued existence has potential drawbacks. Jadoun is concerned that deepfakes will proliferate via the messaging application WhatsApp as opposed to the public internet, where they are more difficult to disprove. Amber Sinha asserts that WhatsApp has disseminated more conventional misinformation.

He also believes that the deep-fake use case in India is still in its infancy.

Alternative forms of content, such as Photoshopped or altered images, have become prevalent in India for a significantly extended period of time, especially on WhatsApp groups.

Many people in India consider WhatsApp to be the internet. Niche platforms continue to predominate in other democracies. Consider the advertising budget of Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp (which does not display advertisements).

The ruling BJP is dominant, as indicated by the data presented by Who Targets Me. In contrast, consider American expenditures.

At present, the United States is comfortably outspending India, despite not having even held an election.

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Furthermore, according to Pal, alternative platforms have surpassed WhatsApp.

He claims that WhatsApp groups were also a significant factor in the relatively recent elections. Presently, YouTube is either equivalent to or more significant than WhatsApp.

He argues that YouTube influencers have emerged as the most innovative digital development of this election.

An example of this occurred earlier this month when Curly Tales, a food blogger with over three million subscribers, honored the Maharashtra chief minister on her platform. Politicians have been actively endeavoring to cultivate relationships with influencers in all sectors.

Pal states that the most unexpected aspect of the campaign has been the prevalence of digital influencers rather than professional journalists serving as interviewers.

In contrast to a professional journalist, who may possess a reasonable level of policy knowledge and can confront politicians directly about the aspects of their platform that are effective or ineffective, digital influencers lack this capability.

Despite their innovative nature, deepfakes and influencers may create an information void through which misinformation and doubt can propagate, whether intentionally or not.

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