Why free and fair elections in 2024 is a challenge?

June 4, 2024

By Vikrant Rana, Anuradha Gandhi and Rachita Thakur


The rapid rise in artificial intelligence (commonly referred to as AI) has created many opportunities globally, it also raise profound ethical concerns. The United Nations in its Interim Report: Governing AI for Humanity (the Report) has called for a closer alignment between international norms and how AI is developed through recommendations to enhance accountability. The Report highlights the importance of identifying, classifying and addressing the risks emanating from AI based on the principles of inclusivity and public interest.[1] Artificial Intelligence has emerged as a transformative force across nations. AI technologies have capabilities to generate and disseminate false information at an alarming scale and speed. With several economies having elections in 2024 including Bangladesh, India, UK, US, Pakistan, Mexico, the concerns of AI influencing elections has triggered the nations to take preventive steps.

Why does use of AI tools and technology during elections raises concern?

AI creates a complex web through which it can undermine the sanctity of the ballot box, manipulation of voter perceptions, micro-targeting propaganda to the overt threats of cyber-attacks on election infrastructure.
During the US presidential elections, the data science firm Cambridge Analytica rolled out an extensive advertising campaign to target voters based on their individual psychology.[2]The result of this highly micro-targeted election campaign was such that different voters began to receive different ads based on their susceptibility to perceptions and arguments. This was possible because of the availability of real-time data on voters ranging from their behavior on social media to their consumption patterns and relationships. These digital footprints were then used to build unique behavioral and psychographic profiles of cyber-citizens and can directly targets them.

How has AI revolutionalised elections?

In 2024, traditional ways of conducting elections have completely transformed. Earlier elections meant campaigns involving physical rallies, slogans, ballot papers. Progression ensured that ballot papers are transformed to EVM Machines, physical campaigning into social media posts and videos, extensive media coverage among other things.

AI redefining the elections systems:

  1. AI powered bots and tools are used by political parties to monitor engagement of social media content and posts in real-time.
  2. AI technologies, such as voice recognition and natural language processing, are used to make voting more accessible to people with disabilities by enabling them to vote independently using assistive devices.
  3. Predictive analysis through AI can forecast the potential impact of various campaign actions from advertising placements to public appearances and policy announcements.
  4. Election authorities can use AI to monitor and identify violations of campaign, finance laws and ensure compliance with electoral regulations. In 2021, the Bihar Election Commission tied up with an AI Firm Staqu to use video analytics with the optical character recognition (OCR) to analyse CCTV footage from counting booths during panchayat elections.[3] Delhi Police has written to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to provide 200 drones equipped with sophisticated technology to monitor election events and rallies.[4]

The Misuse of AI impacting various stakeholders:

  • Data analysis and voter targeting– AI analyses vast amounts of data to identify voter preferences, behaviors, and demographics to target specific voter segments more effectively. A popular search engine, in 2005 added a program for targeted advertisements which personalizes content depending on users’ assumed interest.[5]Resultantly, voters are forced to absorb content that consciously creates a sub-conscious impact!
  • Spreading Misinformation and deepfakes–The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024 ranks misinformation and disinformation as number one (01) risk for next 2 years.[6]
    AI based dissemination of misinformation is a like a tsunami, strong, wide and literally unstoppable.
    Some of the recent examples of AI Deepfakes include:

    1. Deepfake video of famous Bollywood actors, Amir Khan and Ranveer Singh, favouring a political party was widespread and re-shared multiple times on social media. Later, the deepfake videos were taken down by a few social media platforms after the police probe started on filing of FIR by the respective actors.[7]
    2. In Moldova, a deepfake videos have the country’s pro-western president, Maia Sandu, resigning and urging people to support an opposite political party during local elections in Russia.[8]
    3. In January 2024, a democratic political operative faked the US President’s voice to urge voters to not go to the polls.[9]
    4. In South Africa, a deepfake video of the famous rapper, Eminem, was spread endorsing a South African opposition party ahead of the country’s elections in May 2024.

    Media’s role in electoral systems today cannot be undermined due to its expansive outreach and accessibility amongst the masses.

  • Bias and fairness– AI systems can perpetuate and exemplify biases present in the data they are trained on disadvantaging certain demographic groups. This bias could manifest in various aspects of the electoral process, such as voter registration, candidate selection, or even result prediction. A classic example of AI perpetuating bias is one response from Google’s AI platform suggested that the policies of the Indian Prime Minister are “fascist” which led to social media debates on the political propaganda to create influenced narratives.
  • Weapon against women– In 2023, a manipulated image of women wrestlers was spread showing them with wide smiles while protesting against the President of the Wrestling Federation while in the original photo they looked serious. The incident discredited the wrestlers.[10] Deepfake videos of female opposition politicians wearing objectionable clothes emerged in Bangladesh ahead of elections,[11] is an example of targeting the integrity of a certain vulnerable social groups to the disadvantage of others.
  • Geo-fencing–Geo-targeting industry obtains location data from online ad placement system known as “real-time bidding” in which publishers or app owners share device, ad unit and geo-location information to a split second auction. In 2018, a conservative political party reportedly used location data to target people who frequently attended Catholic churches in Missuri over a period of 60 days.[12] This gives political parties and miscreants an added advantage and an upper hand over voter preferances.
  • Non-consensual use of data– Utilization of AI in election campaign raises ethical concerns which revolve around manipulation of voters perceptions using personal data and behavioral patterns through a lot of data that may be already in public domain where the legal liability would be difficult to assign.
  • Foreign interference– Russia was accused of interfering in the 2016 US elections, which was believed to have impacted electoral outcomes. The rise of AI and the availability of advanced AI-based sorting tools have enabled party arms and state security apparatuses to sort colossal amounts of data into precise and actionable information down to the individual.[13]
  • Integrity-Days before the elections in Slovakia, an audio recording surfaced on Facebook, allegedly capturing a conversation between a candidate and a media representative discussing plans to manipulate election, including buying votes. The audio was denounced and tagged as fake immediately, however, it highlights the vulnerability of election systems to deepfakes.[14]
  • Understanding Phonetic Similarity in Trademark Registration [15]

    1. In one of the deepfake videos, a member of a major political party was seen encouraging people to vote for his son who is the candidate for that political party in the elections. While the he had passed away four years ago and his likeliness was reproduced using AI tools.
    2. A very popular Common Man’s Party in Delhi, used ‘blasters’ in which AI generated voice of the candidate addresses and greets the recipient of the call by their name.

    How can deepfakes impact election results?

    False narratives widespread outreach can completely sway public opinion in the run-up for elections which can cause questionable dents to a democratical landscape of any country.

    Responsive Actions

    The social media intermediaries have acknowledged the dangers arising from deepfakes and have taken steps as mitigation strategies.

    1. Meta had announced that it would be launching a new helpline and fact-checking service in India to prevent the spread of AI-generated deepfake content its WhatsApp messaging service. The helpline would be in collaboration with the Misinformation Combat Alliance (MCA), the helpline aims to “combat media generated using artificial intelligence which may deceive people on matters of public importance, commonly known as deepfakes, and help people connect with verified and credible information.[16]
    2. WhatsApp has rolled out a anew feature for users in India to report suspicious content through multilingual helpline chatbot in the app, supporting English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu Languages ahead of elections in India, the world’s largest democracy.[17]
    3. Googlehad also announced collaboration with various major technology companies to help prevent deceptive AI-generated imagery, audio or video content from interfering with the global elections.[18]
    4. Logically.ai is one of the world’s largest commercial fact-checking organisations and allows to identify inauthentic information/content prevailing in the public space.
    5. In 2021, Adobe, Microsoft, Intel, Arm, BBC and Truepic had launched a coalition for standards development: The Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (C2PA) which is a consortium to accelerate the pursuit of pragmatic, adoptable standards for digital provenance, publishers, digital creators, media platforms and consumers. [19]

    Global efforts to regulate AI-generated content

    The European Union’s Artificial Intelligence Act, 2024 (The EU Act Act)
    The EU AI Act classifies AI systems as ‘High risk’ category based on its intensity of impact. The EU AI prescribes transparency requirements to be complied with and imposes the mandate of labeling on AI generated content so that user are aware of such content. [20]
    [To read more about this, click on the link below:

    https://ssrana.in/articles/eu-parliament-final-nod-landmark-artificial-intelligence-law/ ]

    The United States
    Michigan, in November 2023, has become the fifth state after California to regulate the AI in election communications.[21]The law punishes anyone who knowingly circulates an AI-generated deepfake within 90 days of an election.[22]
    The Guidelines Issued by the Federal Election Commission of America
    The Federal Election Commission of America has issued guidelines (the Guidelines) for political parties for making any public communication made by a political party that mandates displaying a “disclaimer” which should be clear and conspicuous.[23]

      1. The MeitY is likely to amend the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021(as amended on April 06, 2023) to include rules eliminating AI bias, check and prevent deepfakes and regulate fraud loan apps on social media. [To read about this, click on the link below:
        https://ssrana.in/articles/government-amend-it-act-introduce-rules-regulating-ai-companies-generative-ai-models/ ]
      2. The Government has also notified the Digital Data Protection Act, 2024.
      3. However, the proposed amendments and the Digital Personal Data Act, 2023 are only to be notified after the Lok Sabha elections. To fill the vacuum, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has issued advisories stating that the existing law is equipped to deal with the deepfakes which are made actionable under the Indian Penal Code 1860 along with the IT Act, 2000 and the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021;
      4. The Election Commission of India has issued the Guidelines titled ‘Responsible and ethical use of social media platforms and strict avoidance of any wrongful use by political parties and their representatives during MCC period in General Elections and byelections-regd’dated May 06, 2024 directing political parties to take down deepfakes within 3 hours. [24]
      5. The Election Commission of India on April 07, 2024 issued another Press Note while urging the young and first time voters to participate in the elections through its ‘Turning 18 campaign’ highlighted the proliferation of fake news and misinformation online. Thereby urging individuals to exercise due diligence before sharing any information on social media platforms.[25]
      6. The National Cyber Crime Reporting Portal further allows cyber-citizens (netizens) to report the incidents of cybercrime including deepfakes.[26]

    Way forward

    As the world grapples together with the challenges posed by rapidly developing technology, regulating AI has become imperative to ensure the truthfulness and credibility of information that is made available to the public. With EU putting forth the Artificial Intelligence Act, the path is set for other countries to follow.
    To read more, click on the links below:







    [1] https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/un_ai_advisory_body_interim_report_press_release.pdf

    [2] https://theconversation.com/how-artificial-intelligence-conquered-democracy-77675

    [3] https://www.drishtiias.com/daily-updates/daily-news-analysis/using-ai-in-elections

    [4] https://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/delhi/2024/Apr/27/delhi-ai-cams-drones-to-keep-tab-on-campaigns-150-personnel-to-be-deployed

    [5] https://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2012/06/05/evolution-of-adwords#:~:text=In%202005%2C%20Google%20built%20on,for%20the%20Google%20AdSense%20program.

    [6] https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_Global_Risks_Report_2024.pdf

    [7] https://ssrana.in/articles/remedies-and-deepfakes-prevention-protection-and-redressal/

    [8] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/04/23/ai-deepfake-election-2024-us-india/

    [9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2024/04/23/ai-deepfake-election-2024-us-india/

    [10] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-65757400

    [11] https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/trending/from-rashmika-mandanna-to-bangladeshi-politician-filmed-in-a-bikini-90-per-cent-of-deepfake-videos-online-are-pornographic-571782

    [12] https://themarkup.org/privacy/2022/11/08/how-political-campaigns-use-your-phones-location-to-target-you

    [13] https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/flex-flux-and-the-foreigner-ai-and-election-interference#:~:text=The%20recent%20AI%2Dgenerated%20voice,primary%20election%20exemplifies%20these%20perils.

    [14] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/11/elections-cybersecurity-ai-deep-fakes-social-engineering/

    [15] https://sflc.in/tracking-use-of-ai-by-political-parties-in-india/

    [16] https://about.fb.com/news/2024/02/mcas-whatsapp-helpline-curbing-the-spread-of-ai-generated-misinformation/

    [17] https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/technology/whatsapp-is-testing-meta-ai-chatbot-in-india-heres-what-it-means-for-users-12627001.html

    [18] https://www.deccanherald.com/technology/lok-sabha-2024-google-steps-up-efforts-to-tackle-deepfakes-gen-ai-content-ahead-of-general-elections-2932902

    [19] https://www.techuk.org/resource/deepfakes-and-disinformation-what-impact-could-this-have-on-elections-in-2024.html

    [20] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/topics/en/article/20230601STO93804/eu-ai-act-first-regulation-on-artificial-intelligence

    [21] https://www.citizen.org/news/michigan-becomes-fifth-state-to-regulate-a-i-in-elections/#:~:text=WASHINGTON%2C%20D.C.%20%E2%80%93%20Governor%20Gretchen%20Whitmer,political%20advertisements%20created%20using%20A.I.

    [22] https://www.orlaw.com/uncategorized/2024/02/13/michigan-governor-signs-bills-regulating-ai-generated-political-ads-into-law/

    [23] https://www.fec.gov/help-candidates-and-committees/advertising-and-disclaimers/#:~:text=Internet%20public%20communications%20that%20include,the%20recipient%20of%20the%20communication

    [24] https://www.eci.gov.in/eci-backend/public/api/download?url=LMAhAK6sOPBp%2FNFF0iRfXbEB1EVSLT41NNLRjYNJJP1KivrUxbfqkDatmHy12e%2FztfbUTpXSxLP8g7dpVrk7%2FeVrNt%2BDLH%2BfDYj3Vx2GKWdqTwl8TJ87gdJ3xZOaDBMndOFtn933icz0MOeiesxvsQ%3D%3D

    [25] https://www.eci.gov.in/eci-backend/public/api/download?url=LMAhAK6sOPBp%2FNFF0iRfXbEB1EVSLT41NNLRjYNJJP1KivrUxbfqkDatmHy12e%2Fzye%2BFD1PRcKxhOuiYZ2Ra30zsZVuncZbKMyY%2FE405%2FpvyAIRs2iN9ElFsXYKuxM1GCSv%2B1yJkuMeCkTzY9fhBvw%3D%3D

    [26] https://cybercrime.gov.in/Webform/Accept.aspx

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