AI, misinformation risks will increase ahead of election, experts warn

Experts warn that election-related misinformation is likely to become an even bigger problem in the lead-up to the 2024 presidential election.

There are fewer guardrails in place to counter false narratives, and the tools and networks that help spread misinformation are gaining more of a foothold in online spaces.

False narratives that the 2020 election was stolen still hold significant traction. An August 2023 AP-NORC poll showed 57% of Republicans, a majority, still believe President Joe Biden was not legitimately elected.

Meanwhile, tools like AI text and image software are pushing into the mainstream and increasing the risk of unverifiable, modified or outright fabricated information that could mislead voters. 2024 will be the first election year that such tools are in widespread use.

“I expect a tsunami of misinformation,” Oren Etzioni, an artificial intelligence expert and professor emeritus at the University of Washington, told The Associated Press. “I can’t prove that. I hope to be proven wrong. But the ingredients are there, and I am completely terrified.”

In at least one case, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign has already used AI imagery to share misleading visuals about former President Donald Trump in ads.

Social media platforms have only recently rolled out rules governing disclosure and warnings about the use of AI in political ads. 

Congress and the Federal Election Commission are investigating options for top-down regulation, but in the meantime, states have been left to set up their own rules. 

Twitter, under Elon Musk’s ownership, has sharply scaled back misinformation moderation, made user verification less reliable, and, in some cases, restored the accounts of conspiracy theorists and extremists.

Meta and YouTube have also made misinformation protections less of a priority, according to a December report by the Free Press.

And Trump has continued to repeat false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, which experts warn will likely continue as the next election approaches.

“Donald Trump has clearly embraced and fanned the flames of false claims about election fraud in the past,” Kate Starbird, a misinformation expert at the University of Washington, told The Associated Press. “We can expect that he may continue to use that to motivate his base.”