The deepfake menace: a threat to global democracy

In a world where half the population is gearing up for elections, the rise of deepfakes threatens the very foundation of democratic processes. Sumsub’s recent report highlights an alarming 245% year-on-year increase in deepfakes worldwide from Q1 2023 to Q1 2024. The United Kingdom, while experiencing a decrease in deepfake fraud rates, still saw a 45% increase in the number of deepfakes detected within the same timeframe.

Deepfakes, which use artificial intelligence to create hyper-realistic but fake videos, have become increasingly sophisticated and accessible. This technology poses a significant risk not only to political integrity but also to individual privacy and the trustworthiness of digital content. The countries most affected by deepfakes in early 2024 include China, Spain, Germany, Ukraine, the US, Vietnam, and the UK, underscoring the global nature of this threat.

Corrupting public opinion

Even nations without scheduled elections are not immune; places like China, South Korea, and Turkey have experienced unprecedented year-on-year increases in deepfake scams, suggesting a broader, more insidious spread of this technology.

Particularly concerning is the correlation between the surge in deepfakes and the electoral calendar. Countries like India, the US, South Africa, Mexico, Moldova, and Indonesia, all of which have elections in 2024, have seen deepfake incidents skyrocket by up to 1500%.

The implications for democracy are dire. Deepfakes can be used to manipulate public opinion, create false narratives, and discredit political figures, thereby undermining the electoral process. The integrity of information is foundational to a functioning democracy, and when voters cannot trust what they see or hear, the very essence of democratic decision-making is at risk.

In the UK, the consulting, gaming, and EdTech sectors are the most affected by deepfake fraud, reflecting the wide-ranging impact of this technology. Across Europe, countries like Spain, Germany, and France are grappling with both high absolute numbers of deepfakes and significant year-on-year increases.

Erosion of trust

The private sector is not immune either. Industries such as crypto, fintech, and iGaming have seen deepfake cases soar, with iGaming alone experiencing a 1520% increase. This trend not only threatens businesses but also the broader digital ecosystem, where trust and authenticity are paramount.

Vyacheslav Zholudev, Co-founder and CTO of Sumsub, emphasizes that the proliferation of deepfake technology and its misuse are symptoms of a wider digital malaise. The increasing accessibility of deepfake tools and the willingness of individuals to deploy them for nefarious purposes point to a growing challenge that transcends traditional fraud prevention measures.

The path forward, as highlighted by Sumsub’s Head of AI/ML, Pavel Goldman-Kalaydin, lies in leveraging advanced AI to combat AI-driven threats. Multi-layered anti-fraud solutions that implement checks at various stages of the user journey are essential for businesses. However, content platforms and the general public remain vulnerable. Media platforms must enhance their defenses against deepfakes to prevent the spread of misinformation, especially during this critical election year.

The deepfake epidemic is a multifaceted threat that requires urgent and comprehensive action. Policymakers, technology companies, and the public must work together to develop robust defenses against this growing menace.

Failure to do so could result in the erosion of trust in digital content, the destabilisation of political processes, and a significant blow to democratic institutions worldwide. In 2024, Goldman-Kalaydin believes “vigilance, innovation, and collaboration” will be our strongest allies in safeguarding the truth.

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