How Trump’s AI-generated deep fake image with black voters could alter the 2024 Election – NBC News

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Wayne L. Smith, an engineer in the Washington, D.C., area, scoffed at an image he saw last week of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gleefully nestled among a group of smiling Black people. Seeing the image immediately alarmed him. 

“Everything he does to try to get Black people to like him is fake,” Smith said. “Why wouldn’t that photo be fake, too? It just didn’t feel right.”

Smith’s instinct about the photo was correct; it was created by Trump supporter and conservative radio host Mark Kaye, who admitted he used artificial intelligence to create the image and posted it on social media for his 1 million Facebook followers to see. Kaye did not respond to an NBC News request for comment.

“I’m not out there taking pictures of what’s really happening. I’m a storyteller,” Kaye told BBC News, which tracked down the images’ origins. He added, “If anybody’s voting one way or another because of one photo they see on a Facebook page, that’s a problem with that person, not with the post itself.” 

Trump’s campaign did not respond to an NBC News request for comment on this article, but last week one campaign official said: “The only ones using AI to meddle in an election are President Trump’s opponents. The Trump Campaign has absolutely nothing to do with these AI images. Nor can we control what other people create and post.”

In this election cycle, Trump has made some headway with Black voters. Sixteen percent of them said in an NBC News poll published in February that they would consider voting for Trump if the election were held today. That’s compared to the 12% who supported Trump in 2020.

Still, this photo generation was the latest in a series of awkward efforts — including claiming he’s being persecuted in the legal system — by Trump, his campaign and his supporters to try to show a connection with Black voters.

“They want our vote but don’t know how to get it,” Smith said. “Biden’s no peach, but he’s not Trump. And they know that. That’s why they are trying anything. Tricks. Deception. And, to me, they’re just making it worse by insulting us.”

On one hand, said  Rhonda Sherrod, who ran for a Democratic Illinois Senate seat this year, these moves to appeal to Black voters rely on racist stereotypes and can be insulting. In a recent NBC News focus group of likely Black voters, participants all generally agreed that Trump’s rhetoric can often be racist. 

“I got indicted for nothing, for something that is nothing,” Trump said to a group of Black conservatives last month in South Carolina before the state’s primary. “And a lot of people said that’s why the Black people like me, because they have been hurt so badly and discriminated against, and they actually viewed me as I’m being discriminated against. It’s been pretty amazing but possibly, maybe, there’s something there.”

All the while, these efforts to illustrate Black voters embracing Trump may also  appeal to white voters who have found his previous statements and actions discomforting, said Calvin Lawrence, an IBM chief training officer for responsible and trustworthy AI.

“What about those independent white people who dislike him and won’t vote for him for the mere reason they think he’s a racist?” Lawrence said. “When you see these deep fake videos and images generated by AI with him wrapped up with Black folks, they’re also targeting those white voters and saying, ‘Look. I’m not a racist. He’s not a racist.’ They are using AI on a larger scale.” 

Beyond the AI-generated photographs, Trump has also boasted that Black people will connect with him because he has had a mug shot taken. 

“My mug shot,” Trump said to the Black conservative group. “We’ve all seen the mug shot, and you know who embraced it more than anybody else? The Black population. You see Black people walking around with my mug shot, you know. They do shirts, and they sell them for $19 apiece. It’s pretty amazing — millions by the way.”

In February Trump unveiled the Never Surrender High-Top Sneaker, a limited edition $399 pair of gold shoes with American flag details, a day after he and his company were ordered to pay a $453 million penalty for real estate fraud. Raymond Arroyo, a Fox News contributor, said in February that Trump’s release of golden sneakers will be attractive to Black voters because “they love sneakers.”

These efforts “are nothing more than bigotry concealed as campaigning,” said Rahna Epting, executive director of the progressive grassroots organization MoveOn. “Black voters have real concerns about tangible issues like the economy, safety and health care.”

Ray Richardson, a retired government worker in Atlanta, agreed. “Donald Trump views me and my Black vote as a cheap whore on the street corner,” Richardson said. “I want passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill, criminal justice reform. He has no regard for my intelligence or interest. It’s insulting and disrespectful.”

How artificial intelligence will affect Black voters and the electorate at large

For many, the disingenuous use of AI is particularly alarming. Elizabeth M. Adams, an artificial intelligence expert, told NBC News that the images of Trump generated by Kaye using AI is the epitome of “weaponizing or misusing the tool’s purpose.”

But it also was not surprising to Adams, the CEO of EMA Advisory Services, a company that focuses on responsible use of AI. 

“Artificial intelligence really is training a computer to think fast, like a human, but at a much faster pace,” she said. “And so, when, in a case like this, it’s being weaponized, it is also a mirror of society. It’s all the things that people think — the biases people have.”

It’s also troubling, Adams said. “Very unfortunate, but it is a consequence of what happens when you don’t have a good vision for how A.I. should be used,” Adams  said via a phone interview from a conference in Saudi Arabia. “If you have bad actors before AI, they’re just going to use the tools and continue being bad actors.” 

IBM’s Lawrence wrote a book, published last year, “Hidden in White Sight: How A.I. Empowers and Deepens Systemic Racism.” For the last four years, he said he has been cautioning about the exploitation of AI. With Trump and his supporters, Lawrence said he sees the manifestation of his concerns — and more.

The bigger picture won’t affect Black voters who “know what Trump stands for,” Lawrence said. “The bigger goal is the long-term effect of the deep fake to create a zero trust society, where people no longer believe what you say or what they see. With a zero trust society, you can’t distinguish the truth from falsehood. Truth gets eroded.”

He cited the George Floyd murder in 2020 as an example. “Imagine if the nation thought that woman’s video was a deep fake, thought it was AI-generated?” he said of a bystander’s cellphone video of Floyd’s fatal encounter with Minneapolis police. “If people didn’t believe what they saw, would we have had a social justice movement?”

Half of the responses to questions about politics by AI chatbots like ChatGPT4 and Google Gemini were completely inaccurate, according to an analysis published by the AI Democracy Project last month.

This is only the beginning of AI influx into the election, Adams and Lawrence said. For Chicago psychologist Sherrod, who ran for the state senate this year, that is concerning. 

“It’s going to be a bruising political season,” said Sherrod, author of the 2021 book, “Surviving, Healing and Evolving: Essays of Love, Compassion, Healing and Affirmation for Black People.” “In this cycle, the legitimacy of democracy is at stake.”  

The volatility of the campaign — with its racial undertones and potential for misleading information, despite some companies having policies against such acts — and the specter of Trump returning to the White House can take a toll on Black voters, Sherrod said.

“From a psychological standpoint, so many of us are already tired. We’ve been bombarded with so much information, and because there are so many different information sources — including AI — that Black people have to protect themselves psychologically,” she said. “A lot of times that means that if you see something that strikes you a certain way, you need to try to look at some other sources of information to figure out whether or not it is credible. It’s a shame we have to go through all those hoops, but that’s the world we live in. But they are worth going through to make sure we get the right person in the White House.”

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