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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist


WATCH – SA Elections 2024: Be wary of deepfakes and disinformation

Criminals can create deepfakes impersonating politicians in order to sway public opinion.


With one-third of registered voters still undecided who they are going to be voting for, according to a recent poll by Afrobarometer and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, South Africans have been warned to be wary of deep fakes and misinformation.

Millions of South Africans are expected to cast their ballots on 29 May in the national and provincial elections, in what is expected to be the most hotly contested polls since democracy.

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With many political parties using social media to win over voters, South Africans have been advised not to believe everything they see or hear on social media.

Watch Donald Trump promoting the MK party in a deepfake video

Criminals can create deepfakes impersonating politicians in order to sway public opinion. Recently, a deepfake with former US president Donald Trump was created to promote former president Jacob Zuma’s  uMkhonto weSizwe party (MK).

If a politician purportedly said something that’s deeply polarising, it’s important to verify whether they genuinely said it.

ALSO READ: Elections 2024: How Facebook and WhatsApp’s owners plan to stop misinformation

Deepfakes

To counter the risk of deepfakes, the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), in collaboration with Media Monitoring Africa, has launched an initiative called Padre.

This initiative allows voters to fact-check information regarding South African political parties and their recent statements.

Google’s reverse-image search is another helpful tool that enables you to check if an online image has been used elsewhere.

“It’s crucial for the public to be aware of the existence of this phenomenon,” said Anna Collard, SVP Content Strategy and Evangelist at KnowBe4 Africa.

The increasing prevalence of disinformation, fuelled by the growing use of deepfakes and generative AI, means that politicians and voters alike will need to be on high alert.

Misinformation

In the 2024 Global Risks Report, the World Economic Forum identified AI-generated misinformation and disinformation as the second-most significant global risk after extreme weather.

This concern is well-founded, especially with the rapid rise of tools like generative AI-empowered deepfakes, posing a threat to the integrity of democratic processes.

Deepfakes, which are highly realistic fabricated videos or images, can deceive voters, manipulate public opinion, and tarnish the reputation of political parties and politicians.

Collard said there has been a vast improvement in the quality of deepfakes over the past year, making them more convincing and difficult to identify.

“Deepfakes pose major risks in the run-up to elections, both in the UK and South Africa. Voters need to be aware of this risk and be proactive about mitigating their impact.”

ALSO READ: Google supporting election integrity in South Africa

Be aware of deepfakes

According to Collard, the initial step in combating the impact of misinformation and disinformation through deepfakes is raising awareness.

“It’s crucial for the public to be aware of the existence of this phenomenon,” she emphasised, adding, “the production of deepfake videos and images is cheap and easy.”

Verify information

Apart from raising awareness, another crucial principle is to verify information.

Don’t over-react

When faced with inflammatory content, Collard stressed the importance of voters not overreacting.

“Scammers want to whip up your emotions and get you in a state where you’re unable to think rationally,” she said.

“Stay calm and don’t share content that is overly emotive. Whenever your emotions are triggered, slow down and verify, -it could be a hoax.”

Collard believes that it is every voter’s responsibility to educate themselves about the dangers of deepfakes.

“AI-generated fake content has huge implications for society, especially during election periods.

 “To combat this form of disinformation and safeguard the democratic process, social media platforms, political parties and independent watchdogs as well as us the public will all need to work together,” Collard said.

ALSO READ: IEC and TikTok to ensure election integrity in SA

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