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The Rise of AI-Powered Propaganda
Recent reports have exposed a worrying trend in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technology to spread propaganda and disinformation. In Venezuela, state-run TV channels have been airing strange videos featuring apparently American hosts discussing the country’s economy and political landscape. The videos, which have also appeared on YouTube, are hosted by dozens of AI avatars created by a company called Synthesia. For as little as $30 a month, the company allows anyone to create an avatar that can say whatever they want.
The AI avatars are part of an orchestrated strategy by the Maduro government to manipulate public opinion, according to Adrián González, the executive director of the Venezuelan non-governmental organization Cazadores de Fake News (Fake News Hunters). However, attributing the videos directly to the government is difficult due to the design of covert accounts and influence operations to avoid detection and attribution.
Venezuela: Myth or Reality?
One of the videos on the House of News Español YouTube channel features a blond white man speaking in American English over a clip called “Venezuela and its economy, myth or reality?” The video, which is nearly two minutes long, has over 270,000 views and promotes the idea that Venezuela is not as destroyed as the media has claimed for years. The video’s host, an AI avatar named Noah, presents himself as a journalist from a Western news broadcast. The aim of the video is to find out if Venezuela is really as bad as people think it is.
The Venezuelan Crisis
Under President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist party, Venezuela has become one of the world’s most isolated countries. The country has long experienced chronic hyperinflation and food shortages, and allegations of state-run drug trafficking are rampant. Furthermore, the Maduro regime has cracked down on the country’s free press, creating a climate of silence and fear.
Promoting False Narratives
The House of News Español YouTube channel has posted five strange videos within the last month, and another video has over 100,000 views. This video, hosted by a different American-sounding AI avatar, alleges that Maduro’s political rival, Juan Guaido, spent $150 million. A third video promotes Venezuela’s new world-class baseball stadium.
Despite the poor grammar and odd words used by the AI avatars, the videos have been successful in spreading false narratives. According to González, the ecosystem of propaganda in Venezuela feeds on any type of content that could be useful to fuel the narratives of the government of Nicolás Maduro.
A Global Problem
The use of Synthesia’s technology is not just a problem in Venezuela. The same AI technology has also appeared to promote propaganda in Burkina Faso and China.
People shared videos featuring American-sounding AI avatars through WhatsApp groups and Facebook to support the military regime that seized power during a coup in September in Burkina Faso.
Controlling the Narrative
The danger of AI-powered propaganda is that it allows governments and organizations to control the narrative. By creating fake news that appears to be produced by legitimate sources, they can manipulate public opinion and push their own agendas. The use of AI avatars like Noah and Alisha makes it easy to spread propaganda on social media, as they can create an illusion of legitimacy.
Synthesia has recently banned a user who created Burkina Faso videos for breaking their policy that allows the spreading of misinformation, disinformation, or obscenity. Synthesia CEO Victor Riparbelli told VICE World News that the company invested very early into content moderation to ensure that its customers benefit from a safe platform. However, the company’s
content moderation policy has been called into question by critics who argue that it is not sufficient to prevent the spread of AI-powered propaganda.
The rise of AI-powered propaganda is a concerning trend that threatens the integrity of information and the ability of people to make informed decisions. Governments and organizations can use these tools to manipulate public opinion, control the narrative, and push their own agendas. While Synthesia and other companies are actively taking steps to prevent the spread of misinformation, we must do more to ensure that AI technology is not employed to disseminate propaganda and disinformation. It is essential for individuals to remain vigilant and critically evaluate the information they consume, particularly in the digital age where the line between truth and fiction is becoming increasingly blurred.