‘Crucial’: FCC Proposes Forcing Disclosure of AI Use in Political Ads

“Americans expect and deserve to know whether the content they see on our public airwaves is real or AI-generated content—especially as the technology is increasingly being used to mislead voters,” one advocate said.

By Jessica Corbett Published 5-22-2024 by Common Dreams

Screenshot: YouTube

Amid the U.S. political primary season and mounting fears of how artificial intelligence can be abused to influence elections, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday unveiled a proposal to force the disclosure of AI use in campaign advertising.

“As artificial intelligence tools become more accessible, the commission wants to make sure consumers are fully informed when the technology is used,” said FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. “Today, I’ve shared with my colleagues a proposal that makes clear consumers have a right to know when AI tools are being used in the political ads they see, and I hope they swiftly act on this issue.”

Rosenworcel’s office explained that the proposal aims to increase transparency by:

  • Seeking comment on whether to require an on-air disclosure and written disclosure in broadcasters’ political files when there is AI-generated content in political ads;
  • Proposing to apply the disclosure rules to both candidate and issue advertisements;
  • Requesting comment on a specific definition of AI-generated content; and
  • Proposing to apply the disclosure requirements to broadcasters and entities that engage in origination programming, including cable operators, satellite TV and radio providers, and section 325(c) permittees.

The FCC earlier this year took action regarding AI use in robocalls—following a recording that mimicked U.S. President Joe Biden’s voice just before the New Hampshire primary—but the agency lacks the authority to regulate internet or social media ads.

While Rosenworcel’s Wednesday announcement is just a step toward new restrictions, it was lauded by advocacy groups.

“Americans expect and deserve to know whether the content they see on our public airwaves is real or AI-generated content—especially as the technology is increasingly being used to mislead voters,” said Ishan Mehta, Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Program director, in a statement. “This rulemaking is welcome news as the use of deceptive AI and deepfakes threaten our democracy and is already being used to erode trust in our institutions and our elections.”

“We have seen the impact of AI in politics in the form of primary ads using AI voices and images, and in robocalls during the primary in New Hampshire,” he continued, commending the commission and its chair. “It is imperative that regulations around political advertising keep pace with the onward march of new and evolving technologies.”

Congress and the Federal Election Commission should “follow the FCC’s lead and take proactive steps to protect our democracy from very serious threats posed by AI,” Mehta argued, noting Common Cause’s comments calling on the FEC “to amend its regulation on ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ to include ‘deliberately false artificial intelligence-generated content in campaign ads or other communications.'”

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, similarly thanked the FCC for its step and called on others to do more.

“With deepfake technology fast evolving, the 2024 election is virtually certain to see a wave of political deepfakes that confuse and defraud voters, swing elections, and sow chaos if governmental authorities fail to act. That’s why the FCC action is so important,” he said. “As the proposal is honed and finalized, the FCC should require advertisers to disclose the use of AI in the ads themselves, not just require a note to files maintained by broadcasters.

“Prominent, real-time disclosure is the essential standard to protect voters from being deceived and defrauded,” Weissman asserted. “The FCC action is especially crucial because absent a new rule from the FCC, broadcasters believe under existing law they are unable to refuse political ads or demand alterations or disclosures.”

He also said that “the FCC is modeling how federal regulators should be proactively addressing the threats that deepfakes and artificial intelligence pose to election integrity. We need the Federal Election Commission—and Congress—to follow the FCC’s lead and take aggressive, proactive action. No one wins with deepfake chaos, and we don’t need to sit back and let it happen.”

The FEC chair said in January that the agency was expected to act on AI rules by early summer. Critics including Weissman suggested that was far too slow. The Public Citizen leader said at the time that “the FEC’s slow-walking of the political deepfake issue threatens our democracy.”

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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