Deepfakes become political weapon in Pakistan elections

National elections in Pakistan are the latest victim of deepfake content which has been weaponized by political parties to dissuade the voter base of opponents from exercising their franchise by spreading fake news and creating confusion.

Just a day before the January 8 parliamentary elections, many social media accounts started posting a video featuring the AI-generated voice of former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, which announced: “Dear Pakistanisâ€æ. Given the unjustified crackdown on our party and ECI’s collusion (with the ruling coalition), we have lost all hopes of justice and decided to boycott this election.”

Subsequently, more such videos and audio clips made their way to X (formerly Twitter), WhatsApp, and Facebook. Another deepfake video of Khan’s legal advisor Nadeem Haider Panjutha, created using tools powered by generative capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI), calls on people to support their Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) by not going to polling centres to vote.

Similarly, a deepfake video of former minister and PTI leader Muhammad Basharat Raja was also circulated to falsely claim that he had decided to withdraw as a candidate from National Assembly segment 55, in Rawalpindi – the home to Pakistan Army’s headquarters. Raja’s deepfake video was allegedly reposted by Maryam Nawaz Sharif, the daughter of former PM Nawaz Sharif.

Some of these clips were so convincing that even some media houses fell for them and relayed reports for millions of their audience, amplifying disinformation. The screenshots of such media reports were further distributed to give legitimacy to these false claims.

The confusion was such that PTI’s chairman, Gauhar Khan, had to take some time out of his busy election schedule to appear on television channels to refute the false claims. “The way Khan’s fake audio has been passed to mainstream media channels as leaked content and the way the deepfake video of Basharat Raja has been circulated exposes the nefarious designs. There will be no election boycott,” Khan told a news channel in a clip posted on the party’s official X handle.

PTI workers have accused the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the party leading the ruling coalition, for using deepfake videos and audio as a tool to spread confusion among the party supporters to influence election results.

Former PM Imran Khan’s party has used AI to fill the void left by his absence from the January 8 polls due to his jail term.

During the campaign, PTI workers used deepfake technology to generate speeches of Imran Khan, who is languishing in jail in what their party alleges “fabricated case”, for broadcast at virtual rallies. The party has exploited generative AI to portray Khan’s image as a fighter, superhero, saviour of Pakistan, and to propagate their claim that he was sent to jail with fair trials.

Artificial intelligence has been listed as one of the biggest risks to free elections around the world. The recently-held elections in Argentina and Taiwan have seen the technology pushing the frontiers of fake news. The Pakistan election is the biggest democratic exercise so far this year and will be followed by polls in India, the US, and around 50 other countries.

Published By:

Devika Bhattacharya

Published On:

Feb 8, 2024

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