For the first time, China has used artificial intelligence-created news anchors to spread political propaganda content on social media, according to a report by a U.S. research firm.
A Chinese state-aligned influence operation, has been using AI-generated fictitious people to promote China’s global role and spread disinformation against the US since late 2022, Graphika, a New York-based research firm told the New York Times.
Spamouflage, a hybrid of spam and camouflage, is a technique used by spammers to avoid email spam filters by replacing specific letters with numbers. Cyber security researchers use the term, as well as other terms like Dragonbridge and Spamouflage Dragon, to refer to the internet’s pro-Chinese propaganda network.
Spamouflage is responsible for posting thousands of assets that praise China, criticize the US, and attack the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement as well as Taiwan independence via fake accounts targeting social media users.
It has recently been “promoting a new and distinctive form of video content on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube,” according to Graphika.
Researchers at the firm discovered and analyzed two “unusual” videos featuring a male and female anchor, both speaking English and appearing Caucasian.
The videos featured the logo of a “likely fictitious media company” called “Wolf News,” along with the slogan “Focus on hot spots and broadcast in real time.”
The male anchor chastised the United States government for its “hypocritical repetition of empty rhetoric” in addressing gun violence, while the female anchor emphasized the importance of China-US cooperation for global economic recovery.
Both videos mirrored “past Spamouflage efforts to pass as legitimate news outlets,” said the Graphika report.
China Remains Silent After the Graphika Report
The numerous similarities discovered in the videos and other Spamouflage assets on the internet led to the conclusion that the two were linked.
Beijing has yet to respond to the Graphika report, which highlights the concerning potential misuse of sophisticated AI technology in state-sponsored disinformation campaigns.
Online influence operations had previously been limited to computer-generated fake faces and fabricated videos, but the new videos featured AI-generated fictitious people who appeared almost real.
“On the surface, the Wolf News anchors appear to be real people. “Our initial hypothesis was that they were paid actors who had been hired to appear in the videos,” the report’s authors explained.
They discovered the anchors’ robotic speech, which did not sync with their lips’ movements, as well as numerous grammatical errors in the subtitles after further investigation.
The anchors were most likely created using technology provided by Synthesia, a British AI video company, according to the Graphika team.
They discovered several marketing videos featuring the same AI-generated duo speaking in languages other than English. In the Wolf News video, the male avatar, Alex, was also known as Mr. Curtis, Jason, and James.
“The main benefit of this technology to the creators of the Spamouflage videos appears to be increased efficiency, specifically high-speed, low-cost content production,” according to the report, which adds that Synthesia’s products can create AI-generated videos in minutes and subscriptions start at just $30 per month.
Worlds First AI-Generated New Anchor
Influence actors will “continue to experiment with AI technologies, producing increasingly convincing media artifacts that are harder to detect and verify,” according to Graphika. In 2018, the Chinese state news agency Xinhua unveiled the world’s first AI news anchor, a male image with a human voice, facial expressions, and actions.
Xinhua and Chinese search engine company Sogou.com collaborated to create the avatar.
The English-speaking anchor, according to Xinhua, “can work 24 hours a day on its official website and various social media platforms, reducing news production costs and improving efficiency.”
China has focused heavily on AI technology development over the last decade.
According to Stanford University’s 2022 AI Index, China ranks second in total private investment in AI and the number of newly funded AI companies, only behind the United States.
Beijing introduced first-of-its-kind regulation on AI-generated images and videos, or “deepfakes,” in January. “Deep synthesis services cannot use the technology to disseminate fake news,” it says.
The new regulation also prohibits content that jeopardizes national security and interests, harms the national image, or disrupts the economy.
However, the regulation does not apply to deepfakes created outside of the country. According to critics, its top priority is to tighten online censorship and stifle dissent.