“AI can be used to supercharge censorship, surveillance, and the creation and spread of disinformation,” said Michael J Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “Advances in AI are amplifying a crisis for human rights online.”
By some estimates, AI-generated content could soon account for 99 per cent or more of all information on the internet, overwhelming content moderation systems that are already struggling to keep up with the deluge of misinformation, according to tech experts.
Generative AI-based tools were used in at least 16 countries to distort information on political or social issues over the period June 2022 to May 2023, the Freedom House report said, adding that the figure is likely an undercount.
“Generative AI offers sophistication and scale to spread misinformation on a level that was previously unimaginable – it is a force multiplier of misinformation,” said Karen Rebelo, deputy editor at BOOM Live, a fact-checking organisation based in Mumbai.
While AI is a “military-grade weapon in the hands of bad actors”, Rebelo said Indian political parties and their proxies are the biggest spreaders of misinformation and disinformation, and it is not in their interest to regulate AI.
Even if deepfakes are quickly exposed, they can “undermine public trust in democratic processes, incentivise activists and journalists to self-censor, and drown out reliable and independent reporting”, the report said.
“AI-generated imagery … can also entrench polarisation and other existing tensions. In extreme cases, it could galvanise violence against individuals or whole communities,” it added.
For all its pitfalls, AI technology can be enormously beneficial, according to the report, so long as governments regulate its use and enact strong data privacy laws, while also requiring better misinformation-detection tools and safeguards for human rights.
“When designed and deployed safely and fairly, AI can help people evade authoritarian censorship, counter disinformation and document human rights abuses,” said Allie Funk, Freedom House’s research director for technology and democracy.
For example, AI is being increasingly used in fact checking and to analyse satellite imagery, social media posts and images to flag human rights abuses in conflict zones.
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