Hawaii is the latest in more than a dozen states to introduce legislation to combat the threat AI-generated content and deep fakes can pose to political campaigns – either by pushing to disclose when content isn’t real or enforcing outright bans.
“The purpose of this legislation is to combat political misinformation because we want to safeguard the integrity of our state elections here by preventing the spread of deceptive and fraudulent deepfakes, which will erode the public’s trust in government,” La Chica said.
Deepfakes are AI-generated images, audio or video showing candidates doing or saying things they never did. The use of deepfakes has become a hot topic in recent months, alarming citizens, activists, and lawmakers.
Two bills in Hawaii would ban false information about a candidate or party, and one would make it a crime to distribute or intend to distribute fake political messages.
The state House and Senate versions, sponsored by La Chica and Sen. Karl Rhoads (D-Nuuana), would authorize the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission to investigate and impose fines for deceptive information, including awarding money to those harmed by the fake messages within 90 days of the election.
The push in Hawaii comes as 2024 contests have already been hit by false information. Just before the New Hampshire primary in January, Democratic voters received a fake robocall of what sounded like President Joe Biden telling them not to go to the polls. “Save your vote for the November election,” said the voice that turned out to be AI-generated without a clue to its creator.
And in 2023, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ presidential campaign released AI-generated images of former President Donald Trump embracing his political nemesis, Dr. Anthony Fauci. The GOP frontrunner has also used altered images, but his campaign argued it’s obviously fake content or memes.
To date, there are five states: Michigan, Minnesota, California, Washington, and Texas that already have laws in place to restrict AI in political communications. Swing states, including Wisconsin, Florida, and New York, have pending legislation, but it remains unclear if it will pass in time for this year’s local, state, and federal elections.
“A big issue for democracy”
La Chica emphasized the critical need to prevent political weaponization in Hawaii, where as few as several hundred or thousand votes can determine a candidate’s success in a state House or Senate race.
“We’re trying to get ahead of this. And it’s very positive news that this bill is being scheduled early, even with the single referral, which means it’s, you know, it’s going to be prioritized,” La Chica said
The legislation has also received support from non-profit pro-democracy groups such as Public Citizen and Common Cause Hawaii. Camron Hurt, program manager for Common Cause Hawaii, called the threat of AI deepfakes “a big issue for democracy right now.”
Rhoads hopes that bipartisan support will allow the bill to pass and go into effect before Hawaii’s primary election on August 10th.
“The cat’s out of the bag, technology has outpaced our laws. But now we must catch up and it’s important that we spearhead and that we help lead that charge and make sure that harmful AI deep fakes and alike are removed from any way of being in our elections,” Hurt said.
Jeremy Yurow is a politics reporting fellow based in Hawaii for the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.