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Technology 10-Jul, 2024

Deepfakes: The Modern Day Ravana

By: Muskan Agrawal

Deepfakes: The Modern Day Ravana

Source: Freepik

Indian epics like the Ramayana depict the battle between good and evil through gods and demons. Today, technology like deepfakes and AI are modern-day demons, using illusion to deceive and manipulate. These digital threats, akin to Ravana's deception, challenge the integrity of our democratic processes.

Throughout Indian history and culture, the struggle between good and evil has been a central theme. Our ancient (Ramayana, Mahabharata and others) texts tell of epic battles between gods and demons, humans and rakshasas (demons), and even among cousins. Demons, like devas (semi-gods), were cosmic beings with unprecedented powers, including the power of maya (illusion). Today, this age-old conflict between good and evil manifests in new and insidious forms, with technology like deepfakes and artificial intelligence (AI) emerging as modern-day asuras (demons), with illusion (maya) having taken a different form altogether. These technological adversaries, much like the legendary asura Ravana, possess the ability to deceive and manipulate, presenting an unprecedented challenge to the integrity of our democratic processes.

Quintessentially, it is the same battle, just that evil is residing within us now, threatening to overwhelm our intelligence and awareness like never before. Just to explain it better, in the epic Ramayana, Ravana abducts Goddess Sita by creating an illusion and assuming the form of a saint. Now that’s modern day deepfake of highest order! Deepfakes utilize sophisticated AI algorithms to create hyper-realistic but fake audio and video content. This technology can convincingly depict individuals saying or doing things they never actually said or did. Just as Ravana and other asurascould change their forms and deceive those around him, deepfakes can mislead viewers, spreading misinformation and sowing discord. Ravana, with his ten symbolic heads representing different facets of human vice—lust, greed, anger, and more—can be seen as an ancient metaphor for the multifaceted threat of deepfakes. Unlike Ravana's ten heads, deepfakes have countless manifestations, each capable of targeting different vulnerabilities within our society.

Political Implications in India

In the context of Indian elections, deepfakes pose a significant threat. The vast and diverse electorate, coupled with the widespread use of social media, creates a fertile ground for the dissemination of deepfake content. These fabricated videos and audio clips can be weaponized to discredit political figures, produce false statements or actions attributed to leaders, damage reputations, and influence voter perceptions. Misleading content can spread rapidly, creating and reinforcing divisive narratives that polarize communities. By targeting specific demographics with tailored deepfake content, political actors can manipulate public opinion and sway electoral outcomes.

A poignant example of the potential impact of deepfakes is the viral "dictator" meme featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This deepfake garnered a staggering 18.7 million views, illustrating the extensive reach and influence such content can achieve. The meme, showing Modi dancing like Lil Yachty, an American rapper, amused all of his fans, spreading rapidly and potentially altering the perceptions of millions of voters. The following graphs illustrate the pervasive influence of deepfakes in Indian politics, as evidenced by the substantial number of views and likes amassed on platforms like X (formerly Twitter) and Instagram.

The public must be educated about the existence and dangers of deepfakes, fostering a culture of skepticism and critical thinking. To combat the menace of deepfakes in the political arena, a multi-faceted approach is essential. Technological solutions involve developing and deploying advanced detection algorithms to identify and flag deepfake content. Legislative action is required to implement robust legal frameworks to regulate the creation and distribution of deepfakes and to penalize those who use them maliciously. Public awareness campaigns are crucial for educating the electorate about the risks of deepfakes and promoting digital literacy to help individuals critically evaluate the authenticity of online content. Finally, rapid response teams should be established to quickly address and mitigate the impact of deepfake content during critical periods, such as election campaigns.

Deepfakes represent a modern incarnation of the ancient asuras, threatening the very fabric of our democratic society. Like Ravana with his many heads, deepfakes have numerous forms and can attack from multiple angles. By understanding the nature of this threat and taking proactive measures, we can safeguard the integrity of our elections and uphold the principles of democracy. The battle is within ourselves and our society, and we must rise to the challenge with the same determination and resolve that has characterized our historical struggles against evil.

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