Battle With X Over Starmer Deepfake Highlights UK Election Worry

(Bloomberg) -- The social media company X’s refusal to take down a deepfake audio clip of UK opposition leader Keir Starmer has raised alarm bells in the Labour Party about the risk of disinformation ahead of the general election.

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The fake recording portraying Starmer verbally abusing staff was released on the first day of Labour’s annual conference in October. X ignored requests from Labour officials to take down the content, people familiar with the matter said. The clip got about 1.5 million views within days on X and was widely seen as the first major deepfake moment in British politics.

X’s refusal has frustrated Labour officials, who said the company argued it wouldn’t do so without more information proving the recording was fake. Assurances that the audio was not of Starmer did not convince it to act. The incident has been raised in briefings to Labour’s shadow cabinet.

Platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and TikTok did remove the clip, the people said.

According to X’s policy, users “may not share synthetic, manipulated, or out-of-context media that may deceive or confuse people and lead to harm.”

But in negotiations with Labour, X referred to a caveat: “In situations where we are unable to reliably determine if media have been altered or fabricated, we may not take action to label or remove them.”

X did not respond to a request for comment. The account which posted the content appears to have been deleted in recent weeks.

Rapid developments in artificial intelligence have profound implications for politics in Britain and around the world, allowing users to potentially generate fake content of politicians and circulate it instantly on a vast scale.

Polls put Labour on course to win the UK election expected in the autumn and ousting the Conservatives after 14 years, making Starmer prime minister.

Both Labour and the governing Conservative Party expect social media companies to release their election policies ahead of polling day. But Labour is concerned about the Starmer incident with X, especially if other firms copy its decision not to remove fake content in future.

The Starmer clip triggered warnings from across the political spectrum. Former Conservative Cabinet minister Simon Clarke was among those who urged the public to ignore the clip at the time.

Ahead of the election, Labour has been providing its candidates with disinformation training as they anticipate a dramatically changed information landscape. The way people consume information has fundamentally changed and is more fragmented than ever before, Labour said in statement.

“We take all digital threats seriously and are working closely with all social media platforms as well as with partners from across the world,” Labour said. “This is going to be a general election campaign like no other.”

--With assistance from Kurt Wagner.

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