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Biden robocall: Audio deepfake fuels election disinformation fears

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Biden robocall: Audio deepfake fuels election disinformation fears

Copyright AFP Roberto SCHMIDT

Anuj CHOPRA

The 2024 White House race faces the prospect of a firehose of AI-enabled disinformation, with a robocall impersonating US President Joe Biden already stoking particular alarm about audio deepfakes.

“What a bunch of malarkey,” said the phone message, digitally spoofing Biden’s voice and echoing one of his signature phrases.

The robocall urged New Hampshire residents not to cast ballots in the Democratic primary last month, prompting state authorities to launch a probe into possible voter suppression.

It also triggered demands from campaigners for stricter guardrails around generative artificial intelligence tools or an outright ban on robocalls.

Disinformation researchers fear rampant misuse of AI-powered applications in a pivotal election year thanks to proliferating voice cloning tools, which are cheap and easy to use and hard to trace.

“This is certainly the tip of the iceberg,” Vijay Balasubramaniyan, chief executive and co-founder of cybersecurity firm Pindrop, told AFP.

“We can expect to see many more deepfakes throughout this election cycle.”

A detailed analysis published by Pindrop said a text-to-speech system developed by the AI voice cloning startup ElevenLabs was used to create the Biden robocall.

The scandal comes as campaigners on both sides of the US political aisle harness advanced AI tools for effective campaign messaging and as tech investors pump millions of dollars into voice cloning startups.

Balasubramaniyan refused to say whether Pindrop had shared its findings with ElevenLabs, which last month announced a financing round from investors that, according to Bloomberg News, gave the firm a valuation of $1.1 billion.

ElevenLabs did not respond to repeated AFP requests for comment. Its website leads users to a free text-to-speech generator to “create natural AI voices instantly in any language.”

Under its safety guidelines, the firm said users were allowed to generate voice clones of political figures such as Donald Trump without their permission if they “express humor or mockery” in a way that makes it “clear to the listener that what they are hearing is a parody, and not authentic content.”

– ‘Electoral chaos’ –

US regulators have been considering making AI-generated robocalls illegal, with the fake Biden call giving the effort new impetus.

“The political deepfake moment is here,” said Robert Weissman, president of the advocacy group Public Citizen.

“Policymakers must rush to put in place protections or we’re facing electoral chaos. The New Hampshire deepfake is a reminder of the many ways that deepfakes can sow confusion.”

Researchers fret the impact of AI tools that create videos and text so seemingly real that voters could struggle to decipher truth from fiction, undermining trust in the electoral process.

But audio deepfakes used to impersonate or smear celebrities and politicians around the world have sparked the most concern.

“Of all the surfaces — video, image, audio — that AI can be used for voter suppression, audio is the biggest vulnerability,” Tim Harper, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Democracy & Technology, told AFP.

“It is easy to clone a voice using AI, and it is difficult to identify.”

– ‘Election integrity’ –

The ease of creating and disseminating fake audio content complicates an already hyperpolarized political landscape, undermining confidence in the media and enabling anyone to claim that fact-based “evidence has been fabricated,” Wasim Khaled, chief executive of Blackbird.AI, told AFP.

Such concerns are rife as the proliferation of AI audio tools outpaces detection software.

China’s ByteDance, owner of the wildly popular platform TikTok, recently unveiled StreamVoice, an AI tool for real-time conversion of a user’s voice to any desired alternative.

“Even though the attackers used ElevenLabs this time, it is likely to be a different generative AI system in future attacks,” Balasubramaniyan said.

“It is imperative that there are enough safeguards available in these tools.”

Balasubramaniyan and other researchers recommended building audio watermarks or digital signatures into tools as possible protections as well as regulation that makes them available only for verified users.

“Even with those actions, detecting when these tools are used to generate harmful content that violates your terms of service is really hard and really expensive,” Harper said.

“(It) requires investment in trust and safety and a commitment to building with election integrity centred as a risk.”

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Florida lawmakers push to ban social media for children under 16

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Vietnam plans to ask all social media users on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to verify their identities

Social media. — © AFP/File Olivier DOULIERY

Florida moved Thursday towards enacting what would be one of the strictest bans on children’s use of social media in the United States after the state Senate passed a bill to keep those under 16 off such platforms.

The controversial bill seeks to protect children’s mental health against the “addictive features” of such platforms, amid fears over online dangers including from sexual predators, cyber bullying and teen suicide.

The legislation, which was approved 23-14, will now go back to the state House. It has already passed there, with the House speaker championing the legislation, but changes made in the Senate need to be approved in the lower chamber.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has expressed concerns over whether banning social media for children under the age of 16 violates parents’ rights – Copyright AFP Philip FONG

It would then have to be signed by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed skepticism about the legislation. Similar efforts by other states have previously been blocked by courts.

“We’re talking about businesses that are using addictive features to engage in mass manipulation of our children to cause them harm,” the bill’s sponsor, Republican Erin Grall, told the Florida Senate on Thursday.

But DeSantis, who has previously said he is sympathetic to fears over the impact of social media on children, voiced concerns about parental rights.

“A parent has the right to opt in,” he told a press conference Thursday.

The governor has argued many times that parents should have more control over decisions affecting their children, particularly in education.

Under DeSantis Florida has passed laws to curtail teaching about sex education and gender identity in schools and to eradicate diversity programs in state-funded universities.

Scores of books have been removed from the state’s school library shelves in recent months, deemed inappropriate for children by conservative parents and school boards.

Some critics say such a law targeting social media use would violate the First Amendment of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech.

Last year a federal judge blocked an Arkansas initiative that sought to require parental consent to open a social media account.

Most social media networks already have a minimum age of 13 to open an account, though they do little to ensure compliance with the provision.

If the regulation is approved, the platforms will have to block children under the age of 16 from creating accounts and close those already opened.

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Solar Flares Or Sabotage? Internet Theories On Today’s Massive Cell Phone Outage

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Solar Flares Or Sabotage? Internet Theories On Today's Massive Cell Phone Outage

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Massive cell phone outages across America are being reported today by customers of AT&T, Cricket Wireless, Verizon, T-Mobile, Consumer Cellular, Boost Mobile, US Cellular, and Straight Talk Wireless, according to data from Downdetector, an online platform that monitors connectivity. That story and more news you need to read today, inside.

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Meta Expands Access to Instagram’s Creator Marketplace

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Meta Expands Access to Instagram’s Creator Marketplace

Meta has announced that it’s finally expanding access to its Creator Marketplace tool, which will give more businesses the capacity to search for creators to work with on their Instagram campaigns.

Meta first launched its Creator Marketplace back in 2022, enabling U.S.-based brands to search and connect with relevant platform influencers based on a range of qualifiers, including focus topics, follower counts, location, etc.

And now, businesses in the following regions will also be able to access the tool:

  • Canada
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • United Kingdom
  • Japan
  • India
  • Brazil

In addition to this, Meta also says that Chinese export brands will also be invited to connect with onboarded creators in countries outside of China.

Which is interesting, considering Meta’s tenuous history with the CCP’s “Great Firewall”, but the deal here relates to Chinese businesses operating in regions outside of their homeland, which is somewhat separate to Meta’s internal dealings.

In addition to expanding access, Meta’s also rolling new machine learning-based recommendations within Creator Marketplace, which will use Instagram data to help brands more easily discover creators who are the best fit for their campaigns.

Instagram Creator Marketplace

As you can see in this example, the new recommendations will highlight accounts that have strong engagement rates in your niche, have mentioned your brand in the past, or have produced good results for similar businesses.

That could make it easier to find the right fit, or at the least, to give you more options to consider in your process.

Branded Content collaborations can be highly effective on IG, by using the established expertise and experience of creators who have already built a following in the app, and know what works, to boost your promotions.

By working with the right creators, with connection to your target audience, you can secure valuable endorsement within key communities, which can help to germinate your branding in the right communities.

Brands can check out Instagram’s creator marketplace in Meta Business Suite, with access coming to these new regions shortly.



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