The War on Reality: Deepfakes and the Battle for Authenticity Online

3 min read

The potential for deepfakes to sway public opinion and influence the outcome of India’s Lok Sabha is raising red flags throughout the cyber community. While Indians are deciding on which candidate best represents their views, deepfakes, and generative technologies make it easy for manipulators to create and spread realistic videos of a candidate saying or doing something that never actually occurred.

The Deepfake threat in politics

The use of deepfakes in politics is particularly alarming. Imagine a scenario where a political candidate appears to be giving a speech or making statements that have no basis in reality. These AI-generated impersonations, based on a person’s prior videos or audio bites, can create a fabricated reality that could easily sway public opinion. In an environment already riddled with misinformation, the addition of deepfakes takes the challenge to a whole new level.

For instance, the infamous case where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky appeared to concede defeat to Russia is a stark reminder of the power of deepfakes in influencing public sentiment. Though the deception was identified due to imperfect rendering, there is no way of knowing who believes it to be true even after being disproved, showcasing the potential for significant political disruption.

Data dilemma

The proliferation of deepfakes feeds into the broader issue of fake news and bots, adding one more aspect to the inability of people to recognize legitimate sources from manipulated ones. The result of a news story by well-crafted AI and repeated by a deepfake can lead to public distrust or even incite mass unrest.

Regulatory-guided solution

Combating deepfakes requires a multifaceted approach that India lacks with its IT Act.

Legal frameworks specifically targeting the malicious creation and distribution of deepfakes are essential, along with international cooperation to manage the transnational nature of digital media. In the realm of technology and AI, ethical guidelines must be established to regulate the development and use of deepfake technologies. Media authentication frameworks, public awareness campaigns, and media literacy initiatives will be crucial in empowering individuals to distinguish between real and synthetic content. This collective effort is key to maintaining the integrity of digital media and the broader democratic process.

A business-first solution

The global call for regulating generative AI, including deepfakes, is growing. However, it’s important to recognize that comprehensive regulations primarily govern those within an industry, not individuals who operate outside legal boundaries.

Companies must prioritise AI-driven cybersecurity solutions as part of a broader, company-wide approach that intertwines safety with quality across all aspects of their operations. From online behaviour to development processes, a centralised AI- ingested understanding of an organisation’s baseline is crucial. Such technologies can identify breaches in real time, whether perpetrated by external threat actors or employees misled by deepfakes. This proactive stance is essential for maintaining integrity and security in a digital landscape increasingly complicated by AI technologies.

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