China Using AI to Influence American Politics

Jason Lomberg, North American Editor, PSD



Jason Lomberg, North American Editor, PSD

­If there’s one antagonist you’d expect to exploit AI’s incendiary capabilities, it’s the People’s Republic of China. And so they have – this according to the Microsoft Threat Analysis Center (MTAC), which claims that China’s been using fake social media accounts and AI-generated images and memes to sow division in the U.S. and possibly influence the 2024 presidential election.

We all know that political ads contain a mix of half-truths and outright lies, taking quotes out-of-context, drawing false analogies, and fabricating backgrounds and associations. The political apparatus has gotten pretty good at using research tools to fact-check and hold itself accountable.

But what happens when the average voter can’t distinguish fiction from reality (more so than usual)? What happens when it takes teams of IT professionals to identify fraudulent media (at which point, the damage has already been done)?

That’s the future we’re barreling towards, and while China’s chicanery isn’t exactly undetectable, it still has the potential to breed discord and change minds.

Specifically, China has used AI-generated memes and social media posts to gauge American opinions on contentious topics, including the train derailment in Kentucky in November 2023, the Maui wildfires in August 2023, the disposal of Japanese nuclear wastewater, drug use in the U.S., as well as immigration policies and racial tensions in the country.

While MTAC declares, unequivocally, that “There is little evidence these efforts have been successful in swaying opinion,” the initial aim appears to be mere information-gathering – sussing out public opinion in order to weaponize that info.

“China’s geopolitical priorities remain unchanged but it has doubled down on its targets and increased the sophistication of its influence operations (IO) attacks,” MTAC states.

Along with evergreen provocative issues, the PRC has used AI to address current events and spread conspiracy theories to portray the U.S. in an unfavorable light.

Specifically, they insinuated that the Maui wildfires of August 2023 were deliberately set up by the U.S. government to test a military-grade “weather weapon,” complete with AI-generated photos of large fires unrelated to the actual catastrophe.

This isn’t even the first time the PRC has used AI content to monkey with foreign political cycles. Earlier this year, a Chinese Communist Party (CCP) group called Storm-1376 used AI-generated fake audio of Foxconn owner and election candidate Terry Gou (who’d already conceded the election) endorsing a different candidate.

While YouTube jumped on the video quickly, if even a small handful of voters see such content and internalize it, it can decide elections (and thus, influence policy).

The 2024 presidential election could be the first in history where we not only have to wade through traditional misinformation but foreign-generated AI propaganda.