The Evolution of Electoral Fraud

In 1962, there was a Senate race in South Dakota between Republican Joseph Bottum and Democrat George McGovern. The seat was open due to the death of Republican Francis Case. I was just a kid, but I remember that election well. Bottum was the favorite, but in the closing days of the race the Democrats spread a rumor that he was an alcoholic. That ploy may have been crude, but it worked. McGovern won the seat by 597 votes. The rest is history, as McGovern went on to lead the left wing of the Democratic Party and run for president in 1972.

That sort of crude election fraud probably goes back centuries, and it continues to the present day. But with improving technology, newer forms of election fraud became possible. Thus, in 2004 the John Kerry campaign falsely claimed that George W. Bush had shirked his duties in the Texas Air National Guard back in the 1970s, and CBS News coordinated with the Kerry campaign to publish fake documents that purported to support the Democrats’ narrative. Happily, that fraud was uncovered and backfired on the Democrats.

In 2016, the Hillary Clinton campaign launched a low-tech fraud that acquired a patina of sophistication due to its association with the “Intelligence Community.” The fraud consisted of a set of documents that presented a wholly-concocted story to the effect that Donald Trump had somehow colluded with Vladimir Putin’s Russian regime. It was augmented by a more high-tech claim, also entirely fabricated, that there were electronic records of communications between Trump and a Russian bank.

In 2020, the Joe Biden campaign was in desperate straits because Joe’s drug-addled son Hunter left a laptop at a shop for repair, and never picked it up. The laptop contained evidence of Joe Biden’s corruption, in the form of taking large bribes from foreign interests. Again the Democrats swung into action, with the Biden campaign rounding up no fewer than 51 former intelligence officials who falsely claimed that the laptop’s contents were the product of “Russian disinformation.” That assertion was absurd, and relied on the general public’s ignorance of such matters. But the time before the election was short, and enough voters were fooled to swing the election to Biden.

2020 also saw a rebirth of censorship, as federal agencies cooperated with, or coerced, the companies that owned social media and other tech platforms to suppress “misinformation” that was harmful to the Democrats–much of which turned out to be, in fact, true. That censorship was another key element in Biden’s victory.

What is new in 2024 is the “deep fake”–not the deep fake per se, which has been around for a while, but rather the ease with which deep fakes can be created using artificial intelligence. Thus, for example, an eerily convincing video of Joe Biden saying something really stupid can easily be created. Not that such fabrication would be necessary. But the possibility of deep fake October surprises is real. Thus, this announcement:

A new nonprofit, nonpartisan technology organization called TrueMedia is developing an AI-powered tool to detect deepfake videos, photos, and audio, aiming to combat political disinformation in the leadup to the 2024 elections.

Founded and led by Oren Etzioni, University of Washington professor and former CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, the Seattle-based group is backed by Uber co-founder Garrett Camp through his nonprofit foundation.

The plan, in essence, is to use AI to fight AI.

“Disinformation, transmitted virally over social networks, has emerged as the Achilles heel of democracy in the 21st Century,” the group said in its announcement Wednesday morning, predicting “a tsunami of disinformation” in the 2024 election due to a sharp decline in the cost of using AI to create deceptive media.

So what do they intend to do about it?

TrueMedia plans to release a free, web-based tool in the first quarter of this year that combines advances from TrueMedia with existing deepfake detection tools in areas including computer vision and audio analysis. It will be available initially for use by journalists, fact-checkers, and online influencers before broader public release later in the year.

Yes, putting the tool in the hands of journalists and “fact-checkers” will be a big help. It isn’t hard to see where that is going.

More fundamentally, though, the use of deep fakes to spread confusion, especially in the closing days of a political campaign, is a very real danger. If experience is a guide, it is overwhelmingly likely that the deployers of deep fakes will be Democrats. So the rest of us should applaud the widespread availability of technology that will detect such fakes–which is much harder than, say, detecting fake memos supposedly from the 1970s, that were typed last week using a word processor by someone who knew nothing about the subject matter.

Nevertheless, I can’t help suspecting that these technologies, deep fake and anti-deep fake, will most likely be deployed in a way that helps Joe Biden and the Democrats, not Donald Trump and the Republicans.

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