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Could your vote be swayed by artificial intelligence this November?

AI is making disinformation harder and harder to spot; we explore how it has already been used this election cycle, and how to make sure it doesn't influence you.
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Posted at 5:52 AM, Jul 05, 2024

The 2024 presidential election may feature two highly recognizable candidates, but it is new, emerging technology — artificial intelligence — that could have a big impact on what information or disinformation voters consume.

A majority of Americans, 57%, think that fake news is a problem in this year's presidential election, according to a poll conducted by Ipsos and Project Liberty earlier this year. Another 32% see it as somewhat of a problem.

Half of American adults reported that in the last year that they have personally encountered election news that they thought was fake or made up.

Earlier this year, Scripps News traveled to Mesa, Arizona, to attend a training hosted by Arizona Secretary of State Adrian Fontes. There, Fontes trained attendees like he has been training election workers to spot mis- and disinformation that could have a big impact on the upcoming election.

Related story: Tech companies sign pact to fight against AI election disruption

Fontes even turned himself into a highly convincing, but fake video — created with artificial intelligence to prove his point.

Rachael Dean Wilson with the Alliance for Securing Democracy and a former aide to Sen. John McCain is tracking the disinformation landscape. She believes AI has the potential to fuel election disinformation in ways voters cannot easily detect.

"I think, overall, there is the potential for it to just supercharge everything," said Wilson. "So, we are supercharging the ability to create false audio and false video that looks real, and it's hard to tell if it is or is not. And it can definitely, if spread with the right timing or with the right message, impact the election, impact the vote, depending on how it's deployed."

This election cycle has already seen one high-profile audio deepfake. In January, some New Hampshire residents received a fake robocall of President Joe Biden telling them not to participate in the state's primary election just days before voters were scheduled to go to the polls.

That fake audio was traced back to Louisiana, but an even greater threat may come from abroad.

"So, we kind of think of the big three: Russia, China, Iran," Wilson said when asked about the foreign actors that most want to target U.S elections. "The one that is really kind of ahead of the rest of the crowd in the information space in particular is Russia. They've just been doing it for such a long time and really kind of perfected some of these tools and tactics that they use to target Americans and other democracies around the world."

Their overarching goal, Wilson said, "is going to be divide and create chaos. And the reason is because that it is in Russia's interest to divide Americans and make it look like our democracy is incredibly chaotic."

When it comes to mis- and disinformation, Wilson recommends voters stay vigilant in the lead-up to the general election, especially when consuming information online.

"I'd also say go a step further and say that you need to take ownership over your information diet," Wilson added. "I think a lot of people, you know, we look at what we eat, we exercise, we take care of all these things. But this is what we are consuming, and it impacts how we think and how we act."