AI technology allows for the effortless cloning of voices - including those of politicians like Sudan's ex-president Omar al-Bashir, whose alleged messages are circulating on TikTok in the midst of civil war.
Since late August, a TikTok account has purportedly been posting "leaked footage" of former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, which has received hundreds of thousands of views during Sudan's civil war. However, an investigation by experts shows that the voice is fake - a product of AI-based voice cloning technology. Al-Bashir, who is accused of war crimes and was overthrown by the military in 2019, has not been seen in public for a year and is believed to be seriously ill.
The TikTok campaign is an example of the growing potential for abuse of advanced audio and video manipulation techniques for propaganda, many of which are freely available. Hany Farid, who researches digital forensics at the University of California, Berkeley, told the BBC that he was concerned about "the democratisation of access to sophisticated audio and video manipulation technology," as even non-professionals can now easily create fake content.
AI messages turn out to be excerpts from another person
An investigation concluded that the recordings were edited by AI to mimic al-Bashir's voice in the recordings. At least four of the published fake recordings turned out to be excerpts from live broadcasts by a blogger. However, there is no evidence that the blogger was involved in the campaign.
The motivation for impersonating al-Bashir remains unclear; the BBC speculates that the campaign may be intended to give listeners the impression that the former leader is involved in the ongoing civil war, or to give credence to a particular political viewpoint.
TikTok has suspended the account
AI experts warn that the proliferation of fake audio and video content will spread disinformation and could potentially incite unrest and influence elections. Mohamed Suliman, a researcher at Northeastern University's Civic AI Lab, added that such recordings could create a climate where even authentic recordings are doubted.
TikTok suspended the account in question after being alerted by the BBC, saying it violated its policies regarding the distribution of "false content that may cause significant harm" and the use of synthetic media.