Fears of AI-driven disinformation in campaigning to European elections

The rapid growth of generative AI is influencing many areas of life and there is no doubt that it will play a role in campaigning in the European elections. So are Czech parties preparing to harness the potential it affords and will Czech voters be able to recognize AI-driven disinformation?

A survey among Czech political parties shows they are gradually starting to make use of the benefits AI offers. The Pirate Party, which is the main driving force behind the digitization of the state sector, argues that not to use the technologies of the modern day and age is to fall behind. The party says it uses AI wherever it is useful – to produce texts, generate images, edit photos and videos –while fully respecting ethics and clearly labelling AI generated content. The SPOLU coalition (Civic Democrats, Christian Democrats and TOP 09) also says it uses AI to subtitle videos and analyze data, but insists that their election campaign will be conducted in a fair manner. Jakub Skyva is spokesperson for the SPOLU coalition.

"If we use any artificial intelligence tools, we will always do so in a way that is not confusing or misleading to voters.”

The opposition ANO party and the Freedom and Direct Democracy party say they prefer to focus more on people-to-people contact campaigns, but admit that AI tools could help them to some extent, for example, in editing texts.

Josef Holý | Photo: Czech Radio

According to Josef Holý, an expert on AI, Czech political parties have been using AI to analyse data on the moods of the population and groups of voters for some time and he says the findings subsequently influence parties' strategy in elections. Likewise, media analyst Josef Šlerka, who heads New Media Studies at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, says AI is already present in campaigning.

Experts suggest that Czech voters are far from prepared to counter the impacts of AI generated disinformation and that many voters will not recognize it for what it is. Among the most dangerous disinformation tools in this respect are deep fakes, the existence of which many Czechs are unaware of.  And it is not only Czechs who are vulnerable to deep fakes.

For example, during the last parliamentary elections in Slovakia late last year, a fake recording emerged of one of the candidates in the running in which he boasted how he’d rigged the election. In another deep fake the same voice –indistinguishable from that of the candidate –talked about plans to raise the price of beer. The recordings immediately went viral on social media, and the candidate, who is pro-EU and NATO, was defeated by an opponent who supported closer ties to Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Josef Šlerka | Photo: Elena Horálková,  Czech Radio

This is seen as a harbinger of the interference that voters could experience in campaigning to the European elections –in Czechia and elsewhere.

Parties and movements in the Czech Republic have pledged not to apply these tactics against their political opponents.

Josef Holý says that while that approach is commendable, it does not necessarily solve the problem since fake videos or audios can be created by anonymous supporters of parties in the running. In such a case he says it would be difficult to trace the source and the damage would be done.

Věra Jourová | Photo: René Volfík,  iROZHLAS.cz

Věra Jourová, the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, is greatly concerned about AI driven disinformation ahead of the European elections and has been touring  European capitals to talk to local authorities about the importance of combatting disinformation.

Earlier this month the European Parliament approved an Artificial Intelligence Act according to which  videos or photos created by artificial intelligence should be clearly labelled.

However, the act will not be in force in time for the 2024 European elections. And while the Czech Interior Ministry says it is monitoring online content related to the European elections and will refute any disinformation, the main responsibility in detecting deep fakes will still lie with the voters.

Elections to the European Parliament | Photo: European Council,  Council of the European Union