The Fiji Times » Hacking elections

Back in May 2021, the New York State Attorney-General issued a report on a scheme by “US Companies and Partisans [to] Hack Democracy”.

This wasn’t some light matter, but serious revelations of a concerted attack on a core element of democracy – the ability of citizens to express their freedom of speech. It’s not so much the “what” but the “how” I’m interested in.

Basically this was done by generating millions of fake comments on social media purporting to come from real citizens.

The danger is artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are making it possible to generate genuine-seeming comments at scale, drowning out the voices of real citizens in a tsunami of fake ones. What the New York report showed is that a few big telecommunications companies paid millions of dollars to specialist “AstroTurf” companies, also known as lead generators, to generate public comments.

These companies then stole people’s identities from dead files and from hacked data dumps and attached them to 9 million public comments and half a million letters to members of Congress.

All of the posts and comments basically said they supported the corporations’ position on the hotly debated policy issue of “net neutrality,” the idea that telecommunications companies must treat all Internet content equally and not prioritise any company or service.

They were discovered because the fakes were crude even identical!

Next time we may not be so lucky. By the way those “AstroTurf” companies were fined millions of dollars, but they were convicted in a civil case rather than a criminal one.

Perhaps in future lawmakers, in the interests of preserving freedom of speech, might consider these types of hacks more criminal in nature.

AI technologies are about to make it far easier to generate enormous numbers of convincing personalised comments and letters, each with its own word choices, expressive style and linguistic tones.

The people who create fake grass-roots organisations have always been enthusiastic early adopters of technology and the use of AI technology is a natural progression.

I’ll name one AI technology as an example – take Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, or…