FEC to consider if deepfakes in campaign ads need regulation

Although aimed at protecting the voter, the federal agency may not be able to impose a blanket ban on deepfakes.
Ameya Paleja
image of a hand/long nose putting an American flag in a ballot box
Don't let deepfakes guide you to the voting booth


The Federal Election Commission is now looking into a petition that asks it to regulate political advertisements that use artificial intelligence (AI) to misrepresent opponent candidates, AP News reported. The issue has assumed significance in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

The rise of generative AI in the past year has also led to an increase in the generation of fake imagery that appears extremely realistic. This has led to a proliferation of deepfakes or manipulated content that resembles a personality with a high degree of resemblance.

In political scenarios, this can be used to implicate an opponent for having said or done something and mislead the voter. Last week, the advocacy group Public Citizen asked the FEC if federal laws regarding “fraudulent misrepresentation” applied to deepfakes as well. The federal agency has now agreed to consider the question.

The AI Deepfake Age

As the US gears up for another presidential election, campaign ads targetting opponents have already begun. The difference this time around, however, is the manipulated content in these ads.

Earlier in the year, Interesting Engineering had reported how an advert from Republican National Committee (RNC) used AI-generated imagery to paint a bleak picture of President Biden winning a second term.

In June, Republican candidate Ron DeSantis used AI-generated imagery to target his opponent, former President Donald Trump, in the primaries.

Democratic lawmakers believe that rapid advances in AI technology are making it difficult for voters to identify fraudulent campaigns from genuine ones and are also asking the FEC to step in.

What can the FEC do?

Although the FEC has procedurally agreed to look into the matter, the agency commissioners are not convinced that they have jurisdiction to regulate deep fake ads or whether doing so was contrarian to protections offered by the First Amendment.

Members of the Public Citizen group argued that deepfakes were a technological leap over previous tools and the way they are being used amounted to fraud, which does not enjoy First Amendment protections. The group advocated that the FEC could set guidelines on the use of disclaimers when AI was used in campaign ads. The RNC ad, for instance, used a disclaimer but in a way where it would be missed by most viewers.

Even though the FEC could regulate ads from political parties, it would still remain powerless against ads run by political action committees (PACs) or even individual social media users, which remain outside its purview. As generative AI becomes more mainstream, it is also becoming cheaper to deploy, increasing the likelihood of individuals posting deepfake content.

The FEC has opened a 60-day public comment window, after which it will decide whether it needs to set up regulations. Previously, the agency blocked a similar petition from the advocacy group over similar skepticism over jurisdiction, AP News report added.

Congress is also considering passing legislation to create guardrails for AI-generated content after multiple states have either passed or are considering their own legislation in these areas.

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