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EU Warns Election Deepfakes Start to Surface in Member Nations

(Bloomberg) -- European Union officials have seen deepfakes surfacing in several member nations’ elections, prompting warnings about the dangers of artificial intelligence and potential interference, according to a senior official.

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“It takes 30 minutes to create a deep fake” using AI, European Commission Vice President Vera Jourova said. “We saw it in several elections in the EU member states. We don’t have the data to assess whether it influenced radically the electoral result. But if this would be used in a massive way, we could forget about free and fair elections.”

The EU released guidelines Tuesday to set out how big tech platforms that fall under its digital content rules should protect against online risks to elections, including from generative Artificial Intelligence. Deepfakes are artifically generated or manipulated images that can pass as authentic.

“We are pushing the digital actors, the platforms where the deepfakes might appear, that they either label it or remove it,” Jourova said in an interview at Bloomberg’s Washington office. “The closer we are to election day, the more we are in favor of seeing this removed.”

Jourova, who was in the US to speak with officials in President Joe Biden’s administration about the risks posed by election interference, said she has asked all European political parties, and through them, all national political parties, to refrain from the use of artificial intelligence or deepfakes in campaign materials. “We cannot just rely on the behavior of digital actors,” she said.

The recommendations from the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, come with just over two months to go until bloc-wide European Parliament elections and with billions of people set to vote around the world this year. They include telling platforms to assess the risks of each election, have content moderation teams in place, promote official information and clearly label political advertising.

Under the bloc’s Digital Services Act, designated platforms with more than 45 million active users, which includes Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Google Search among others, have an obligation to mitigate risks related to elections. Failure to comply could lead to fines running to 6% of their annual revenue.

The EU also sets out specific measures to avoid the risk of misinformation as a result of generative AI, particularly by making deepfakes clearly labeled.

With just over 2 months to go until European Parliament elections, and with billions of people set to vote around the world, the EU’s guidelines are an effort to steer big tech platforms to mitigate the risk to elections of online risks like misinformation, foreign manipulation campaigns and fake images produced by AI.

Jourova said the European Union is closely watching the results of the US presidential election slated for November. She said that if former President Donald Trump returns to the White House, she hopes he will see that the war in Ukraine has broader implications, including for democracies around the world.

“I hope if Mr. Trump will become the president, he will see that the conflict, the war in Ukraine is not just the war of Russia against Ukraine, two countries in the east of Europe, but that it’s Russian aggression against democracy” and Russian President Vladimir Putin “must not win it.”

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