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Female MPs could face threat of deepfake porn at general election

Female MPs at Westminster could be targeted with deepfake pornography, the elections watchdog head has said
Female MPs at Westminster could be targeted with deepfake pornography, the elections watchdog head has said - Scott E Barbour/The Image Bank RF

Female MPs could be targeted by deepfake pornography, the elections chief has suggested.

John Pullinger, the chairman of the Electoral Commission, warned that a rise in misinformation generated by artificial intelligence (AI) could “block out the real campaign” in the run-up to the election.

Mr Pullinger said that he was concerned by the rise in deepfake porn “which inevitably is going to be much more targeted towards female candidates”.

He told the Financial Times that elected politicians in the Northern Ireland Assembly had been the targets of deepfake images “which had been seen by their children”.

He added that such examples of fake pornographic imagery was at the “extreme end of a level of nastiness” that should not be tolerated.

John Pullinger, chairman of the Electoral Commission,
John Pullinger, chairman of the Electoral Commission, said deepfake porn will be "much more targeted towards female candidates” - Geoff Pugh

In 2022, Police in Northern Ireland investigated an online video that purported to show Diane Forsyth, a DUP assembly member, acting in sex scenes. It was then sent to newspapers in a bid to undermine her election campaign.

Mr Pullinger also said the watchdog had conducted recent post-election research which exposed “worrying levels” of other forms of “abuse, intimidation and threats to candidates”, which could see fewer willing candidates for political office.

Last month, Michelle Donelan, the Technology Secretary, said the Government was taking the issue of AI-generated misinformation “very seriously” and that “robust mechanisms” would be in place to tackle it ahead of the election.

She added that the Government was working with social media companies on tools to combat the content.

Michelle Donelan, the Science, Innovation and Technology Secretary
Michelle Donelan, the Technology Secretary, said “robust mechanisms” would be in place to tackle AI-generated misinformation at the forthcoming election - DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

Mr Pullinger also warned that young people were being put off voting by the “bad behaviour” of MPs and the lack of understanding about the political system.

He expressed concern at the growing number of young voters asking “what’s the point?” in casting a vote.

He also warned that the requirement of photo ID to vote in this year’s general election proved a greater “barrier” to some groups of voters than others, including disabled people and unemployed voters.

Appearing to question the “very very tight” rules first brought in by Rishi Sunak for last year’s local elections in England, Mr Pullinger said that the Conservatives had “opened themselves up to accusations of gerrymandering.

Although he admitted it was “too late” to make changes for this year’s election, Mr Pullinger told the Financial Times that if a consequence of making elections more secure in the UK was “to disenfranchise certain people” then “we should do better”.

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