Deepfake Electioneering Ushers in a New Era Where Ai “Resurrects” a Long-dead Ruler!

By Roze 8 Min Read

Via his afterlife, a notoriously tyrannical Indonesian general has a message for voters in the upcoming elections. He ruled the country with an iron fist for over 30 years.

In a three-minute video that has gone viral on X and other platforms, the former general introduces himself as “Suharto, the second president of Indonesia.” The video has garnered over 4.7 million views on X alone.

Despite some initial credulity, it soon becomes apparent that the intimidating figure in the video is not the ex-president of Indonesia. The 86-year-old genuine Suharto passed away in 2008, earning the nickname “Smiling General” for his constant smiles despite his brutal governing style.

The video was a deepfake made by artificial intelligence using techniques that replicated Suharto’s voice and visage. “The video was made to remind us how important our votes are in the upcoming election,” stated Erwin Aksa, deputy chairman of Golkar, one of the oldest and largest political organizations in Indonesia.

Before the elections on February 14, he initially posted the video on X. With almost 200 million people casting ballots, the party is one of 18 in this year’s contest. Prominent presidential contender Prabowo Subianto is a former army officer under Suharto’s military-backed regime—and also his son-in-law—and Golkar is not running its candidate.

Instead, it has put its support behind Subianto. The goal of Golkar’s resurrection of a long-dead leader in the weeks leading up to the vote was obvious: to rally support for the party that is commonly associated with Suharto.

As a member of Golkar, I am very proud of Suharto because he successfully developed Indonesia,” Aksa wrote on X. “He brought a lot of success. We must respect it and remember his services – Golkar was there.” Critics on the internet, however, blasted the use of a deceased person’s voice and likeness for any purpose, but notably political propaganda.

“This is the reality of our nation right now – using the specter of long-dead dictators to manipulate and intimidate us into casting our ballots,” scoffed one Indonesian on X. What gave rise to the moral justification of using deceased individuals to make deepfakes? An other person voiced their concern about the moral implications.

Ai ‘resurrects’ Long Dead Dictator in Murky

Voting in the Era of Deep Fakes

A significant portion of Indonesian politics is influenced by the internet. In a nation where internet penetration is among the highest globally, nearly every political party and individual politician has a robust social media presence to gain influence and support.

According to Golda Benjamin, the Asia Pacific campaign manager of Access Now, a US digital rights non-profit, “Deepfakes can greatly influence an election – the way campaigning is done, as well as the results.”

The rate of dissemination is the critical factor. In the blink of an eye, a deepfake can reach millions of people and influence the votes of millions of people.

Many major parties reportedly utilized AI and a wide range of deepfakes in the run-up to this year’s election, according to CNN observers.  According to them, the Suharto film that was made by Golkar was only one of many that were used in official party campaigns.

Prabowo Subianto, Indonesia’s current defense minister and a three-time presidential candidate, acknowledged to employing artificial intelligence software to give their chief an adorable animation makeover on TikTok in an effort to attract young voters after receiving widespread condemnation for the move.

The majority of the votes are cast by Indonesians aged 40 and under, which amounts to over 114 million people. Another video that went viral was the party’s use of AI-generated children in a TV commercial, which was seen as a way to get around the restrictions that prohibit children from being included in political campaigns.

This technique is state-of-the-art…” “We can understand if some people mistook (the children) as real characters,” stated Budisatrio Djiwandono, a statement from Prabowo’s nephew and spokesman for the nationalist right-wing Gerindra Party, following the ad’s criticism by watchdog organizations.

On November 1, 2021, in Glasgow, United Kingdom, President Joko Widodo of Indonesia delivers his national statement at the second day of COP26 at SECC. An interactive artificial intelligence chatbot was employed by Ganjar Pranowo’s party to engage prospective voters. Pranowo was the governor of Central Java.

Members of Ganjar’s party have also utilized AI-generated images created by supporters in their campaign. CNN has contacted Ganjar’s PDIP (Democratic Party of Struggle) to get a statement.

After falling prey to an audio deepfake in January, third-party presidential candidate and former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan warned against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the election. Baswedan’s campaign uses an OpenAI-powered chatbot to answer inquiries regarding his policies on WhatsApp.

An edited video showing Anies allegedly receiving a reprimand from a political supporter went viral. “We have to be critical because now there is AI technology which can generate audio or visuals that can appear real,” Anies told a campaign rally later that month.

Tech businesses and voters should exercise caution when exposed to deepfakes, according to cautions issued by Indonesia’s Communications Ministry in response to many AI videos that went popular. According to CNN’s watchdog groups, however, these attempts have fallen short.

The Suharto deepfake, according to the Jakarta-based nonprofit TAPP (Tim Advokasi Peduli Pemilu), demonstrates the ability of AI to manipulate voters. Deepfakes pose risks that the government is unaware of, according to spokeswoman Gugum Ridho Putra.

“We know what AI is capable of and this is only the beginning,” he adds. “We are concerned about voters being manipulated, especially so close to the election.”

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