Fake Biden robocall to New Hampshire voters highlights how easy it is to make deepfakes − and how hard it is to defend against AI-generated disinformation

An unknown number of New Hampshire voters received a phone call on Jan. 21, 2024, from what sounded like President Joe Biden. A recording contains Biden’s voice urging voters inclined to support Biden and the Democratic Party not to participate in New Hampshire’s Jan. 23 GOP primary election.

Republicans have been trying to push nonpartisan and Democratic voters to participate in their primary. What a bunch of malarkey. We know the value of voting Democratic when our votes count. It’s important that you save your vote for the November election. We’ll need your help in electing Democrats up and down the ticket. Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again. Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday. If you would like to be removed from future calls, please press two now.

The call falsely implies that a registered Democrat could vote in the Republican primary and that a voter who votes in the primary would be ineligible to vote in the general election in November. The state does allow unregistered voters to participate in either the Republican or Democratic primary.

The call, two days before the primary, appears to have been an artificial intelligence deepfake. It also appears to have been an attempt to discourage voting. Biden is not on the ballot because of a dispute between the Democratic National Committee and New Hampshire Democrats about New Hampshire’s position in the primary schedule, but there is a write-in campaign for Biden.

Robocalls in elections are nothing new and not illegal; many are simply efforts to get out the vote. But they have also been used in voter suppression campaigns. Compounding this problem in this case is what I believe to be the application of AI to clone Biden’s voice.

In a media ecosystem full of noise, scrambled signals such as deepfake robocalls make it virtually impossible to tell facts from fakes.

The New Hampshire attorney general’s office is investigating the call.

Recently, a number of companies have popped up online offering impersonation as a service. For users like you and me, it’s as easy as selecting a politician, celebrity or executive like Joe Biden, Donald Trump or Elon Musk from a menu and typing a script of what you want them to appear to say, and the website creates the deepfake automatically. Though the audio and video output is usually choppy and stilted, when the audio is delivered via a robocall it’s very believable. You could easily think you are hearing a recording of Joe Biden, but really it’s machine-made misinformation.

Context is key

I’m a media and disinformation scholar. In 2019, information scientist Brit Paris and I studied how generative adversarial networks – what most people today think of as AI – would transform the ways institutions assess evidence and make decisions when judging realistic-looking audio…

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