R.I. legislation targets deepfakes in elections

This article originally appeared in the Boston Globe on March 11, 2024 and was written by Edward Fitzpatrick.  

Below is executive director John Marion’s comment on legislation that would regulate deepfakes, or “synthetic media,” in election communications.

John M. Marion, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, said the federal government has largely ceded regulating such technology so states are stepping up to address deepfakes. He said he is not aware of any deepfakes used in Rhode Island elections, but he said AI technology has come a long way in the past 12 months and he wouldn’t be surprised to see deepfakes in the state’s fall elections.

Marion noted that Kate, Princess of Wales, apologized Monday for “confusion” caused by her editing of a family photo and that news agencies that initially published the photo withdrew the image over concerns about digital manipulation.

“Photoshop has been around for years and we expect people might clean up their appearance,” Marion said. But the bill targets election communication that has been manipulated using artificial intelligence and the creation of new content, he said, noting that technology companies have rolled out tools to create fully synthetic video based on simple prompts.

Marion noted that in November a University of Chicago poll found 58 percent of Americans believe artificial intelligence will lead to an increase in the spread of misinformation in the upcoming election, and 66 percent support a federal ban on the use of deepfakes. “In the absence of action by Congress, the General Assembly needs to regulate the use of this technology,” he said.

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