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First Use of Deepfakes In an Indian Election Campaign

The Delhi Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has partnered with political communications firm The Ideaz Factory to create “positive campaigns” using deepfakes to reach different linguistic voter bases, reports Nilesh Christopher reports via Motherboard. It marks the debut of deepfakes in election campaigns in India.

On February 7, a day ahead of the Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi, two videos of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Manoj Tiwari criticizing the incumbent Delhi government of Arvind Kejriwal went viral on WhatsApp. While one video had Tiwari speak in English, the other was him speaking in the Hindi dialect of Haryanvi. “[Kejriwal] cheated us on the basis of promises. But now Delhi has a chance to change it all. Press the lotus button on February 8 to form the Modi-led government,” he said. One may think that this 44-second monologue might be a part of standard political outreach, but there is one thing that’s not standard: These videos were not real. [The original video can be viewed here.]

“Deepfake technology has helped us scale campaign efforts like never before,” Neelkant Bakshi, co-incharge of social media and IT for BJP Delhi, tells VICE. “The Haryanvi videos let us convincingly approach the target audience even if the candidate didn’t speak the language of the voter.” Tiwari’s fabricated video was used widely to dissuade the large Haryanvi-speaking migrant worker population in Delhi from voting for the rival political party. According to Bakshi, these deepfakes were distributed across 5,800 WhatsApp groups in the Delhi and NCR region, reaching approximately 15 million people.