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Wisconsin becomes 10th state with law aimed at AI in political ads before 2024 elections

Wisconsin becomes 10th state with law aimed at AI in political ads before 2024 elections
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers on Thursday signed into law a bipartisan bill that requires political ads with content generated by artificial intelligence to include disclaimers, making Wisconsin the 10th state with a similar law ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

While no AI-generated political ads are believed to have aired in Wisconsin this election cycle, the battleground state could become a prime target in the immediate days before elections, with little time for remedy.

“AI technology is accessible, and can make it nearly impossible to distinguish between fact and fiction in advertisements. By requiring transparency in campaign communications, we can ensure Wisconsin residents remain informed,” Rep. Adam Neylon from Pewaukee, a Republican author of the bill, said in a statement Thursday.

More: Deceptive AI campaign ads could target Wisconsin. Lawmakers have a plan to fight them.

States like Wisconsin have taken the lead on addressing deepfakes — which combine images or videos of candidates — that can deceive voters or spread misinformation. The federal government has started efforts to regulate them, but states have the ability to move faster.

“The urgency with which states are acting to pass anti-deepfake legislation is indicative of how serious of a threat generative AI is to our election security,” said Ilana Beller from Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group that has asked federal agencies to create rules.

Evers’ action means Wisconsin will join red and blue states like California, Michigan, Minnesota, Texas and Washington, which already had similar laws on the books. New Mexico and Indiana were also recently added to the list, and three other states have bills ready to be signed into law.

Sen. Mark Spreizter from Beloit, a Democratic author of the bill, said in a statement that Wisconsin is “leading the country in safeguarding elections from AI interference.”

“The use of AI to create a political ad is not inherently good or bad. Generative AI could be used to create a clever animation to illustrate a candidate’s views, or it could be used to create a realistic-looking video clip that makes it look like their opponent said something they never did,” Spreitzer said.

While some states essentially impose a ban on deepfakes in the lead-up to elections, the Wisconsin bill requires a written or spoken disclaimer in video or radio ads. Lawmakers were concerned a blanket restriction could invite lawsuits based on the First Amendment.

“This bill will leave it up to voters to determine whether what they are seeing or hearing is ‘fair,’ but it will give voters the information to know that what they are seeing or hearing may not be ‘real,'” Spreitzer added.

The bill carries a $1,000 fine for each violation, which some advocates believe won’t be enough to deter dark money groups seeking to influence elections. The bill gives the state Ethics Commission authority to develop rules to create exceptions to the bill’s requirements.

Lawmakers believe they’ll revisit the policy as artificial intelligence continues to develop and present new opportunities for political advertising and communications.

“It can become tricky to put certain parameters around rules and regulations, when things often change so dramatically over time,” Neylon previously told the Journal Sentinel.

More: AI has become part of one mental health provider’s treatment tools. How does it work?

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Other branches of government could play a role in responding to AI in political ads. The New Hampshire attorney general investigated a deceptive robocall, and Wisconsin AG Josh Kaul told the Journal Sentinel the state DOJ would “pursue whatever legal avenues are available to ensure that people’s right to vote is protected.”

Public Citizen has also petitioned the Wisconsin Elections Commission, asking it to clarify that a state law that prohibits “false representations” of candidates applies to deceptive AI content in campaign communications. The WEC hasn’t yet placed that petition on its agenda for discussion.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin’s new law aims at AI in political ads before 2024 election

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