A deepfake ‘Joe Biden’ robocall told voters to stay home for primary election

An AI vocal clone confused New Hampshire residents ahead of first-in-the-nation primary.
Joe Biden speaking in front of American flag
A robocall scam told New Hampshire residents to not write-in Biden's name during Tuesday's primary. Deposit Photos

AI vocal cloning technology is reportedly already muddying the waters ahead of the 2024 election. According to a statement issued by the New Hampshire attorney general’s office on Monday, a robocall campaign deployed over the weekend used an imitation of President Joe Biden’s voice to urge recipients not to vote in the state’s January 23 presidential primary.

“Voting this Tuesday only enables the Republicans in their quest to elect Donald Trump again,” an AI-generated Biden told residents over the phone. “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.”

The disinformation campaign’s orchestrators are currently unknown, but it comes from “obviously somebody who wants to hurt Joe Biden,” according to former New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan, speaking through NBC News’ initial exclusive report.

[Related: Deepfake audio already fools people nearly 25 percent of the time.]

A growing problem

AI-generated content including deepfaked audio, video, and imagery is a growing concern among misinformation experts. Multiple reports have warned that today’s media, internet, and social landscapes are unprepared for a likely imminent deluge of falsified “fake news” content as the 2024 presidential election intensifies. A recent study conducted by researchers at the UK’s University College London indicates AI generated audio can fool as many as 1-in-4 listeners. Over 1,600 videos uploaded to YouTube have featured deepfaked celebrities like Taylor Swift and Steve Harvey hawking “medical card” schemes and other scams, collectively amassing over 195 million views in the process. But unlike “free money” ploys from AI Oprah, the latest vocal cloning example is explicitly meant to influence the US political landscape.

“Disgraceful and an unacceptable affront to democracy”

As for this weekend’s misinfo campaign, the fake Biden falsely claimed an ongoing statewide campaign to write-in his name during New Hampshire’s primary would hurt the president’s reelection prospects. The robocall message then concluded with a phone number linked to Kathy Sullivan, resulting in a flurry of calls on Sunday evening that prompted the former New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair to report the situation to the state attorney general’s office.

“These messages appear to be an unlawful attempt to disrupt the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election and to suppress New Hampshire voters,” the state attorney general’s office cautioned in Monday’s statement. Voters were urged to disregard the message, with the office explicitly making clear, “Voting in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary Election does not preclude a voter from additionally voting in the November General Election.”

[Related: Beware the AI celebrity clones peddling bogus ‘free money’ on YouTube.]

Representatives of former President Trump’s campaign have denied any connection to the robocall scheme. Meanwhile a spokesperson for Dean Phillips, the congressman from Minnesota challenging Biden for the Democratic Party nomination, described the scam as “wildly concerning.”

“Any effort to discourage voters is disgraceful and an unacceptable affront to democracy,” Phillips campaign representative Katie Dolan told NBC News. “The potential use of AI to manipulate voters is deeply disturbing.”

Chatbot politician stand-ins

At least some Phillips supporters, however, are embracing other AI tool tactics, despite warnings to the contrary. Late last week, The Washington Post noted that Dean.Bot—a chatbot created by a pro-Phillips SuperPAC—had been removed from OpenAI’s recently launched online store for “knowingly violating our API usage policies which disallow political campaigning.”

Despite the slap on the wrist, Phillips remains a favorite of some Silicon Valley’s top players. The SuperPAC behind Dean.Bot, We Deserve Better, was co-founded by the former chief of staff for Sam Altman, OpenAI co-founder and recently fired-and-rehired CEO. Altman himself has met with Phillips, although he has yet to endorse or formally donate to the congressman’s campaign.

An ongoing investigation

The New Hampshire AG’s statement notes a Department of Justice investigation into the AI presidential robocall is ongoing, and encourages residents to contact the Election Law Unit if they received a message beginning with AI Biden opining, “What a bunch of malarkey.”