A split-screen image generated by an AI video-creating program seems ‘shows’ SA-born mega-entrepreneur Elon Musk and a South African Broadcasting Corporation anchor talking about Musk’s supposedly ‘secret investment method’.

| Chris Erasmus/You Tube

AI-driven deep fakes rock South African politics

Artificial Intelligence (AI) may have been the biggest tech craze in the world this year. But its bad side emerged in South Africa with AI-generated videos appearing to present messages people in there didn’t say at all.

And that has brought with it reputational risk, forcing affected entities to threaten legal action but which has also brought them frustrations of jurisdiction.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), an opposition political party in South Africa, was one of the entities that took legal action on a deep fake, using a 2020 law against cybercrime.

This latest AI deep fake video, described by the DA as “malicious” and “dangerous”, has pushed the party into vowing to have anyone involved in making political AI-generated fakes prosecuted.

The post appeared on Tik Tok and Facebook featuring the DA’s shadow minister of justice and constitutional development, Glynnis Breytenbach, who is also a senior figure in the party’s Parliamentary caucus.

The DA said it was pursuing prosecution of businessman Sheldon Cramer, who “shamelessly propagated fake and manipulated content across social media platforms.”

“Operating under the TikTok handle @bobbygreenhash, Cramer disseminated a fabricated audio clip claiming to feature DA MP Breytenbach confirming that the DA’s leader John Steenhuisen had leveraged the Western Cape as ‘collateral’ for a multimillion-dollar loan ‘from the Bezos Foundation in America’,” said the party.

“The malicious voice note also included a direct threat against Steenhuisen,” it added.

Independent South African 24-hour TV news channel eNCA become the latest victim of the 'pseudo-Musk' deep fake scam in You Tube 'infomercials', with slightly improved deep fake versions of their anchors supposedly introducing 'Musk' and his 'miraculous', supposedly previously 'private', investment scheme, as with the SABC deep fakes scam.

First reported in November, some of the video ads have also been posted on Facebook.

These recent incidents are not the first time well-known South African personalities have been falsely used to promote scam schemes. Scammers have previously used social media and Google Ads to promote fake versions of entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Shuttleworth, comedian Trevor Noah, President Cyril Ramaphosa, rugby icon Naas Botha, and mega-wealthy businessman and philanthropist Patrice Motsepe.

The DA says the faked video went as far as to “assert that NASA planes circling Cape Town were evidence of this alleged transaction, urging people to act before it was too late. He brazenly called on supporters to ‘repost this video’ to spread the unfounded message”.

TikTok promptly removed the post after the DA complained, while Cramer seems to have deleted the same post from his Facebook page.

But this was “akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”, said the DA, pointing out that the offending clip was still to be found “on various social media platforms and has circulated through WhatsApp groups”.

The DA said that under legal advice it had initiated “proceedings against Cramer under sections of the Cybercrimes Act of 2020, targeting his role in making, publishing, and disseminating threatening and defamatory statements concerning the DA, Mr Steenhuisen, and Ms Breytenbach”.

The party said that the “use of social media, AI, and electronic systems to fabricate and publish fraudulent, defamatory content cannot be dismissed as harmless”.

“Recognising the tangible consequences of such actions, the DA insists that the violation of the Cybercrimes Act must be met with substantial real-world consequences,” said the party, which hopes to make country-wide gains in the national elections due in about four months.

Meanwhile, AI-made deep fakes, involving leading South African personality Elon Musk and the government-owned SA Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), arrived on YouTube.

Secret investment

The SABC has formally approached YouTube about the deep fakes, which use the broadcaster’s its logo and feature images and voices of its anchors announcing that South African-born mega-entrepreneur Musk has supposedly ‘revealed’ his ‘secret investment method’ that allows ‘all South Africans’ using it to “no longer have to work”.

The Nation understands that, beyond repeated warnings to South Africans about the fakes, the government-owned broadcaster is now considering advice to take legal action against YouTube in the US, and any other jurisdictions, where the broadcaster can bring pressure to bear on the digital video platform.

But SABC explained its inability to halt the AI fakes.

Group Executive, SABC News, Moshoeshoe Monare told the Nation: “It’s not easy to trace the genesis, the source and generator of these videos, which pose a risk to our brand and credibility.”

AI was initially used create a fake video message of Zambian President Hichilema Hakainde announcing he will not contest again when elections come due.

Using similar AI-generated fakes, numerous American political figures have been falsely presented as having said things they never did, in reality, while something similar has happened in Ukraine recently, with a fake video of the country’s military chief supposedly criticising President Volodymyr Zelensky.

In South Africa, SABC has since published two warnings to the public to ignore the ‘investment’ scam fronted by the fake videos. It warned that some people had already been conned.