U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the phone in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on May 1, 2023.

(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

'Political Deepfake Moment Is Here': NH Robocall Sounds Like Biden

"The New Hampshire deepfake is a reminder of the many ways that deepfakes can sow confusion and perpetuate fraud," said one critic.

The U.S. watchdog group Public Citizen responded to reporting of a robocall intended to sound like Democratic President Joe Biden on the eve of the New Hampshire primary with a renewed demand for action on artificial intelligence, particularly deepfakes, in political campaigning.

A deepfake is an image, audio, or video that seems real but has been manipulated with AI. Someone like Biden can appear to say something he never did. As the technology has advanced, Public Citizen has been calling for rules from the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

"Policymakers must rush to put in place protections or we're facing electoral chaos."

"The political deepfake moment is here," Public Citizen president Robert Weissman said in a statement Monday. "Policymakers must rush to put in place protections or we're facing electoral chaos. The New Hampshire deepfake is a reminder of the many ways that deepfakes can sow confusion and perpetuate fraud."

Biden is not appearing on New Hampshire's primary ballot due to a battle between state leaders and the Democratic National Committee but some supporters are urging voters to write in his name on Tuesday. Another grassroots campaign in the state aims to pressure the president to end Israel's war on the Gaza Strip by encouraging voters to instead write "cease-fire."

In the robocall reported by NBC News, the fake Biden directs New Hampshire voters not to participate in the presidential primary, claiming that doing so only helps Republicans elect former President Donald Trump, whose campaign denied any involvement.

NBC noted that the call includes "a phone number belonging to Kathy Sullivan, a former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair who now runs a super PAC supporting the campaign to urge New Hampshire Democrats to write in Biden's name in the primary."

According to the outlet:

In an interview, Sullivan said she began receiving calls Sunday evening from those who had received the message. A woman she spoke to told her that Biden had called her, though she said she was not a Biden supporter.

"I said, 'You got a call from Joe Biden, and he gave you my number?'" Sullivan said she responded.

A volunteer for the write-in effort also received the call and recorded it, Sullivan said, and shared it with organizers of the Biden write-in campaign. One of the organizers then shared it with NBC News.

Sullivan also said that whoever is behind the potentially illegal call, "it's obviously somebody who wants to hurt Joe Biden."

"I want them to be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible, because this is an attack on democracy," she added. "I'm not going to let it go. I want to know who's paying for it. Who knew about it? Who benefits?"

The office of the state's Republican attorney general, John Formella, said in a statement Monday that the call appears to be an unlawful voter suppression effort and "the Election Law Unit's investigation is ongoing."

Weissman explained that at the national level, "unfortunately, the Federal Election Commission is slow-walking the issue—though it's not too late for the agency to issue needed rules. Congress must act, and there is strong bipartisan support for action, but it would be foolish to bet on congressional action."

Republican FEC Chair Sean Cooksey said last week that the commission "will resolve the AI rulemaking by early summer," which is after many state primaries—a timeline that Weissman previously called "intolerable" given fears of what one expert predicted will be "a tsunami of misinformation" this election cycle.

"The good news is that states are rushing to fill the gap, with more than two dozen states having legislation in place or under consideration, with many more to come," Weissman said Monday. "The most important thing is to immediately establish the legal and social norm that deepfake fraud will not be tolerated."

Also on Monday, Public Citizen and Common Cause submitted petitions urging state election officials in Alabama, Louisiana, and Wisconsin to regulate deepfakes in political campaign communications.

"AI deepfakes represent a very clear and present danger to our democracy," said Ishan Mehta, director of Common Cause's media and democracy program. "The opportunity for deceiving and misleading voters has never been so acute as it is today with the vast improvements in fake computer-generated images and voices."

"And ultimately if voters later realize that they have been duped by false and misleading—yet very convincing—campaign ads, they are going to lose even more confidence in the value of elections," Mehta warned.

Two longshot Biden challengers—Marianne Williamson and Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.)—will be on New Hampshire's Democratic primary ballot this week. Late Friday, OpenAI banned the developer of a bot mimicking Phillips, which was paid for by a super PAC supporting his campaign and made possible by the company's ChatGPT software.

As for the New Hampshire robocoll resembling Biden, Phillips' campaign told NBC that it is "wildly concerning."

"Any effort to discourage voters is disgraceful and an unacceptable affront to democracy," said Phillips spokesperson Katie Dolan. "The potential use of AI to manipulate voters is deeply disturbing."

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