The rise of AI opens an insidious new front for disinformation

This editorial is the opinion of Morgan Hill Life

Assemblymember Gail Pellerin (D-Santa Cruz) is right to sound the alarm on the growing threat of weaponized “deepfake” media around elections. Her newly introduced AB 2839 is a measured and appropriate step to safeguard the information channels voters rely on to perform their civic responsibility.

Pellerin represents Morgan Hill, San Martin and a small part of Gilroy. She began her career as a newspaper reporter, so she understands the power of media to shape people’s minds regarding current events such as election and political issues. And with her district in Silicon Valley, the bill serves as a powerful reminder from the hub of high-tech to the rest of America that digital devices play a devious role in manipulating people’s opinions of politicians and issues. The companies in this county make billions of dollars in the information technology industry. They have a moral duty to also restrain misinformation and disinformation from reaching dangerous levels in public consumption.

The rise of this technology — sophisticated artificial intelligence systems that can generate faked images, video, and audio that falsely depict people saying or doing things — opens an insidious new front for disinformation. Recent incidents show these techniques can be abused to intentionally mislead voters about candidates, election procedures, polling locations, and more.

While First Amendment rights must be cherished, they do not include the license to willfully trick the electorate. We already accept reasonable constraints on false statements around elections via libel laws and bans on impersonating election officials. AB 2839 narrowly targets false information spread with an obvious intent to deceive. It would prohibit knowingly circulating deepfakes related to elections from four months before voting till two months after.

The free flow of ideas and commentary around politics must remain protected. But just as we do not allow arsonists to ignite fires or panic-inducers to shout “fire!” in crowded theaters, we need minimal, prudent rules against weaponizing technology to spread voter disinformation. Bad actors constantly evolve new tactics to undermine elections — lawmakers must act to protect this pillar of government by the people.

AB 2839 will not solve all problems, but it is a thoughtful start. The days when elections could be disrupted by scattered flyers with wrong polling details have morphed into an era where one bad actor could instantly disseminate faked media to millions. California must lead to secure American elections against chaos and confusion sown by deceptive deepfakes. The integrity of our democracy, no less, is at stake. We urge the legislature’s swift passage of this forward-thinking bill.