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State needs to do more to ensure truth in political advertising

State needs to do more to ensure truth in political advertising
A new law will require political ads to label if they were made with artificial intelligence tools. The law is in reaction to deepfakes and artificially generated content that has been used in political ads in other states.
State needs to do more to ensure truth in political advertising
A new law will require political ads to label if they were made with artificial intelligence tools. The law is in reaction to deepfakes and artificially generated content that has been used in political ads in other states.

Political campaigns can lie to voters. They just have to slap a label on it saying some part of it is a lie or face a slap on the wrist fine.

That is the end result of newly signed legislation requiring political advertising to label if it uses content generated by artificial intelligence. While any victory in the battle against misinformation and falsehoods in elections is cause for celebration, this law does not go far enough in punishing offenders.

Under the new law, election campaigns are required to disclose when political advertisements use “synthetic media,” defined by its authors as “audio or video content substantially produced by generative artificial intelligence,” in which a language model creates text, images or other data in response to specific prompts. The law requires the label “Contains content generated by AI,” be applied at the beginning and end of all campaign-related audio and visual media distributed to the public.

The penalty is a whopping $1,000 per offense. In 2022, campaign spending in the race for Wisconsin governor topped $164.29 million. The 2020 presidential election saw campaign spending exceed $14.4 billion. Taken into perspective of real world campaign spending levels, a $1,000 fine goes from being a deterrent to just being the cost of doing business.

The bill’s authors are well-intentioned and their cause is just. They rightfully raise concerns about the inability of voters to separate fact from fiction in campaigns as it is, let alone being able to discern “deep fakes” and advanced AI manipulation.

“AI technology is accessible, and can make it nearly impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction in advertisements. By requiring transparency in campaign communications, we can ensure Wisconsin residents remain informed,” Rep. Adam Neylon from Pewaukee, a Republican author of the bill, said in a statement to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

While the cause is just, their remedy is laughably low with the penalty for any of the well-funded statewide and national campaigns amounting to pocket change. Likewise, slapping a label on a lie doesn’t make the impact of that lie any less dangerous to the voting public.

Wisconsin is not alone in its efforts to combat the use of AI generated content in political campaigns and is the 10th state to have adopted regulations for the technology. While other states have effectively banned its use in political advertising, Wisconsin has taken a weaker approach largely over concerns about running amok with the First Amendment free speech protections. This is the same excuse that has been used to block any meaningful campaign finance reform efforts.

The new bipartisan Wisconsin law is better than doing nothing, but not by much. State lawmakers need to revisit the legislation and put more teeth into potential penalties to make campaigns and special interests at least pause before using AI to lie to voters.

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