People For the American Way

Exposing Deepfakes Should Top 2024’s Voter Education Agenda

Exposing Deepfakes Should Top 2024’s Voter Education Agenda

First published in The Hill.

It seems like the world is suddenly drowning in computer-generated “deepfake” content that creates all kinds of risks and problems, and not just for Taylor Swift.

Now, legislatures and regulatory agencies are scrambling to rein in a technology with real potential to upend elections and endanger national security.

Earlier this month the Federal Communications Commission issued a prohibition on unwanted robocalls generated by artificial intelligence, or A.I., after an A.I.-generated call featuring the simulated voice of President Biden targeted voters in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, several states have passed legislation regulating A.I. in campaign advertising. And a divided Congress, predictably, is struggling to keep up — weighing numerous bills but so far unable to pass anything.

That’s scary because the threat is unimaginably broad. In the case of elections, a lot of the focus is on A.I. impersonations of candidates and politicians. But you wouldn’t even have to create a simulated candidate video to do real harm.

Plenty of other damaging “fakes” could be manufactured by bad actors who, let’s say, wanted to hurt the president’s reelection chances: A phony stock market crash, an imaginary mass layoff in a major industry, with furious workers blaming the administration; the list goes on and on.

It’s clear that government action at all levels is desperately needed — but it’s also clear that it won’t be nearly enough for the 2024 elections. It’s going to fall to good-government groups, campaigns and concerned communities themselves to step in and fill the gap.

If we can’t stop deepfakes, we have to inoculate the voting public against being deceived by them.

Clearly, more robust civics education in public schools is a critical part of the solution —  and that’s a whole issue unto itself.

What’s also needed right now is for groups working to get out the vote to work just as hard to help adult voters get the skills they need to identify and reject deepfakes. That includes greater news literacy and the critical thinking skills that tell people to check their sources and be skeptical when a message feels “off.”

We need to complement this work with stepped-up efforts to give voters access to trustworthy information about polling places and times as well as candidate positions.

The nonpartisan League of Women Voters has been doing this for years, and there are newer entries like But finding resources takes effort, and the responsibility for proactively pushing information out to people needs to be shared by more segments of the community.

I’m especially concerned about the Black community; I’ve written before about the numerous obstacles to Black voting, and disinformation is one of the most sinister.

Who could forget the two male, white, right-wing operatives who blanketed the Midwest with phony robocalls telling Black voters not to vote in 2020, using the voice of a woman calling herself “Tamika Taylor”? That’s kindergarten stuff compared to what perpetrators can do today.

There is an urgent need for organizations that serve the Black community to get involved in the fight against voter disinformation generated by A.I. and voter suppression writ large.

An obvious resource is the Black church. Many churches do a great job getting out the vote with their “Souls to the Polls” campaigns. They should add a serious effort to inform and warn people about disinformation and give them links and access to reliable information sources.

The threat of technology-aided deception in this year’s elections is game-changing, and not just because A.I. technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. We know that our political climate is becoming more polarized and cutthroat.

Meanwhile, the Overton window for unethical behavior in politics has been stretched so wide by Donald Trump that people like former RepGeorge Santos (R-N.Y.) can happily jump through.  When it comes to corruption and dirty tricks in some corners of politics, nothing surprises us anymore.

And that’s just here at home. There’s plenty of evidence that Russia meddled in the 2016 and 2020 elections on behalf of Trump. Is there any question they’ll be even more eager to do so now, given that Trump just signaled he would give Vladimir Putin carte blanche to overrun Europe?

I think we know the answer.  It’s time to prepare.


Election 2024, Elections, Voting