Lawmakers question Meta and X on how they’ll police AI-generated political deepfakes

Rep. Yvette Clarke of New York speaks at a news conference in Washington
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York, above, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota sent a letter to Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and X CEO Linda Yaccarino asking them to explain any rules they’re crafting to curb deceptive AI-generated election ads.
(J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
Share via

Deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence are having their moment this year, at least when it comes to making it look, or sound, like celebrities did something uncanny. Tom Hanks hawking a dental plan. Pope Francis wearing a stylish puffer jacket. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul sitting on the Capitol steps in a red bathrobe.

But what happens next year ahead of a U.S. presidential election?

Google was the first big tech company to say it would impose new labels on deceptive AI-generated political advertisements that could fake a candidate’s voice or actions. Now some U.S. lawmakers are calling on social media platforms X, Facebook and Instagram to explain why they aren’t doing the same.


Two Democratic members of Congress sent a letter Thursday to Meta Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and X CEO Linda Yaccarino expressing “serious concerns” about the emergence of AI-generated political ads on their platforms and asking each to explain any rules they’re crafting to curb the harms to free and fair elections.

“They are two of the largest platforms and voters deserve to know what guardrails are being put in place,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota in an interview with the Associated Press. “We are simply asking them, ‘Can’t you do this? Why aren’t you doing this?’ It’s clearly technologically possible.”

Technologists unveil the first significant effort to arm reporters and campaigns with software tools to combat the growing problem of “deep fake” videos. The effort faces formidable hurdles — both technical and political — and developers say there’s no time to waste.

Nov. 5, 2019

The letter to the executives from Klobuchar and Rep. Yvette D. Clarke of New York warns: “With the 2024 elections quickly approaching, a lack of transparency about this type of content in political ads could lead to a dangerous deluge of election-related misinformation and disinformation across your platforms — where voters often turn to learn about candidates and issues.”

X, formerly Twitter, and Meta, the parent company of Facebook and Instagram, didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. Clarke and Klobuchar asked the executives to respond to their questions by Oct. 27.

The pressure on the social media companies comes as both lawmakers are helping to lead a charge to regulate AI-generated political ads. A House bill introduced by Clarke earlier this year would amend a federal election law to require disclaimers when election advertisements contain AI-generated images or video.

“I think that folks have a 1st Amendment right to put whatever content on social media platforms that they’re moved to place there,” Clarke said in an interview Thursday. “All I’m saying is that you have to make sure that you put a disclaimer and make sure that the American people are aware that it’s fabricated.”


For Klobuchar, who is sponsoring companion legislation in the Senate that she aims to get passed before the end of the year, “that’s like the bare minimum” of what is needed. In the meantime, both lawmakers said they hope that major platforms take the lead on their own, especially given the disarray that has left the House of Representatives without an elected speaker.

Google has already said that starting in mid-November it will require a clear disclaimer on any AI-generated election ads that alter people or events on YouTube and other Google products. This policy applies both in the U.S. and in other countries where the company verifies election ads. Facebook and Instagram parent Meta doesn’t have a rule specific to AI-generated political ads but has a policy restricting “faked, manipulated or transformed” audio and imagery used for misinformation.

In a frightening use of deepfake technology, scammers are using AI-powered audio and video to pass themselves off as their targets’ relatives or loved ones in real time.

May 11, 2023

A more recent bipartisan Senate bill, co-sponsored by Klobuchar, Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri and others, would go further in banning “materially deceptive” deepfakes relating to federal candidates, with exceptions for parody and satire.

AI-generated ads are already part of the 2024 election, including one aired by the Republican National Committee in April meant to show the future of the United States if President Biden is reelected. It employed fake but realistic photos showing boarded-up storefronts, armored military patrols in the streets and waves of immigrants creating panic.

Klobuchar said such an ad probably would be banned under the proposed rules. So would a fake image of former President Trump hugging infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci that was shown in an attack ad from Trump’s GOP primary opponent Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

As another example, Klobuchar cited a deepfake video from earlier this year purporting to show Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in a TV interview suggesting restrictions on Republicans voting.


“That is going to be so misleading if you, in a presidential race, have either the candidate you like or the candidate you don’t like actually saying things that aren’t true,” Klobuchar said. “How are you ever going to know the difference?”

Thanks to recent advances in artificial intelligence, tools that can create lifelike photos, video and audio are now cheap and readily available

May 14, 2023

Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, presided over a Sept. 27 hearing on AI and the future of elections that brought witnesses including Minnesota’s secretary of state, a civil rights advocate and some skeptics. Republicans and some of the witnesses they asked to testify have been wary about rules seen as intruding into free speech protections.

Ari Cohn, an attorney at think tank TechFreedom, told senators that the deepfakes that have so far appeared ahead of the 2024 election have attracted “immense scrutiny, even ridicule,” and haven’t played much of a role in misleading voters or affecting their behavior. He questioned whether new rules were needed.

“Even false speech is protected by the 1st Amendment,” Cohn said. “Indeed, the determination of truth and falsity in politics is properly the domain of the voters.”

Some Democrats are also reluctant to support an outright ban on political deepfakes. “I don’t know that that would be successful, particularly when it gets to 1st Amendment rights and the potential for lawsuits,” said Clarke, who represents parts of Brooklyn in Congress.

But her bill, if passed, would empower the Federal Election Commission to start enforcing a disclaimer requirement on AI-generated election ads similar to what Google is already doing on its own.


The FEC in August took a procedural step toward potentially regulating AI-generated deepfakes in political ads, opening to public comment a petition that asked it to develop rules on the misleading images, videos and audio clips.

The public comment period for the petition, brought by the advocacy group Public Citizen, ends Oct. 16.

AP writer Ali Swenson contributed to this report.