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News

Social Media Bigger Threat To Elections In 2024 Than AI: NYU Stern Report

While the report highlights the threat of gen AI, it clarifies that social media platforms still remain the biggest digital threat to elections in 2024.

By - Archis Chowdhury | 16 Feb 2024 5:41 AM GMT

The leading digital threat to elections this year is not artificial intelligence, but social media, says a recent report by the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.

The report, titled 'Digital Risks to the 2024 Elections', highlights the failures by social media companies in checking the spread of conspiracy theories and political disinformation, which led to the US Capitol riots on January 6, 2021, and Brazil's poll violence on January 8, 2022.

Instead, the report states, social media companies have retreated in their efforts to ensure the safeguards are in place to prevent its misuse by laying-off jobs responsible for overseeing safety and regulations on their respective platforms.

The report pulled up the extreme example of X, which saw its elections team entirely disbanded under Elon Musk, along with a massive escalation of disinformation on the platform. It also highlighted backsliding by other companies like Meta, by slashing their elections integrity teams.

Another major threat mentioned in the report was the campaign by big tech against research on disinformation and its mitigation. It gave the example of Elon Musk's X suing nonprofits that study misinformation, and have published reports that are critical of the platform. 

While the report is US-centric, and focuses on many of the poll-related conspiracy theories that have engulfed their social media, it also makes considerable mention of the burgeoning threat of disinformation in India where the world largest electorate will vote in two months, over the course of several weeks.

"India’s ruling Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party has built an extraordinary digital army to push its political messages—including disinformation smearing Muslims—while at the same time, the Indian government aggressively censors social media content posted by dissenters."

The report highlights efforts by the Indian ruling party to strengthen their digital influence operations, while at the same time clamping down on dissent and online criticism, using the new intermediary rules.

The use of generative AI, especially in the creation of deepfakes, is highlighted by the report as the second biggest digital threat, by adding sophistication to disinformation and making them more believable.

Last year, during the legislative elections in Telangana Decode reported widespread use of generative AI to create content for political campaigning. Furthermore, in Madhya Pradesh, we also found AI-generated audio clips of the leaders of the BJP and Congress being circulated on social media.

The Election Commission is yet come out with regulations restricting the use of generative AI in political campaigning, making India a fertile ground for political parties to test the boundaries of the application of generative AI in digital influence operations.