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Meta is fighting deepfakes and misinformation in India ahead of 2024 elections


Tech giant Meta is gearing up for worldwide elections in 2024, having laid out plans to “protect elections online” as global democracies are set to vote this year. India, often referred to as the world’s biggest democracy, is amongst these countries, and Meta is working to fight an epidemic of deepfakes and misinformation ahead of the election in spring.

On Monday, the company announced a dedicated fact-checking helpline on WhatsApp for users in India, launched in partnership with the country’s Misinformation Combat Alliance (MCA). The helpline will specifically work to assess media that has been generated by artificial intelligence, otherwise known as deepfakes. People will be able to flag deepfakes to a WhatsApp chatbot available in English and three Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, and Telugu. MCA will work alongside its Deepfakes Analysis Unit, a network of independent fact-checkers, research organizations, and industry partners to identify and verify such content, thereby flagging and debunking misinformation.

Starting in March, the helpline will be available to the public. India is reported to have 535.8 million monthly active users on WhatsApp, making it the country with the most users worldwide.

Meta says the program is focused around detecting, preventing, and reporting misinformation, but also drawing attention and awareness to “the escalating spread of deepfakes.”

Shivnath Thukral, director of public policy at Meta in India, says, “We recognize the concerns around AI-generated misinformation and believe combatting this requires concrete and cooperative measures across the industry.”

His sentiment is echoed by MCA president Bharat Gupta, who says, “The Deepfakes Analysis Unit (DAU) will serve as a critical and timely intervention to arrest the spread of AI-enabled disinformation among social media and internet users in India.”

Artificial intelligence has been flagged as a threat to upcoming elections everywhere, and India is no different. A new study by George Washington University predicts a near-daily frequency of “bad-actor AI activity” in 2024 — a danger that can “affect election results in the more than 50 countries” heading to the polls this year. These threats range from AI-generated videos posted on social media platforms to hackers influencing results, according to international affairs think tank Chatham House.

AI-generated content has become somewhat of an epidemic when it comes to Indian politics: a recent investigation by Al Jazeera pointed out that members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party — poised to win the election this year — and Congress, the leading opposition party, have been targeted by deepfakes, which are primarily circulated on WhatsApp. There have also been incidents in which the technology has been used by party members themselves. In 2020, a prominent BJP member of parliament used deepfake technology to create campaign videos in different Indian languages.

In India, deepfakes have already infiltrated political ongoings, and have been declared a “threat to democracy” by the country’s information technology minister Ashwini Vaishnaw. India currently does not have laws addressing or defining deepfakes clearly, but is working to draft rules to limit the spread of harmful content. A senior official in Modi’s party warned that social media companies will be held accountable for any deepfakes posted on their platforms.

“We are the world’s largest democracy [and] we are obviously deeply concerned about the impact of cross-border actors using disinformation, using misinformation, using deepfakes to cause problems in our democracy,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar, minister of state for electronics and IT told the Financial Times. “We have been alert to this earlier than most countries because it impacts us in bad ways much more than smaller countries.”

Modi himself has also cited these concerns, calling on global leaders to regulate AI back in November 2023; however, his critics have made clear that the politician recognizes the power of technology and social media to connect with Indian voters, building a clear digital brand and mobilizing supporters to tout his sentiments.





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