HB 986: Navigating the Intersection Between Ai and Politics

By: Team Seven

Image courtesy of Artificial Intelligence Foundation via Flickr and Creative Commons 

The rise of artificial intelligence is only going up, and the uses of it are getting more and more creative (Artificial Intelligence The Rise Of The Intelligent Machine | American Alliance of Museums). In January, HB 986 was presented during the Georgia General Assembly that acknowledged the potential use of artificial intelligence in regards to politics. HB 986 stands out as one of the pioneering bills that encompasses the realm of memes and media. Brad Thomas’ primary objective is to combat the spread of false content, posing as authentic political communication. Offenders caught during a 90-day election period could face criminalization, charges, and imprisonment. However, concerns have been raised regarding potential encroachments on First Amendment protections.

On March 18th, 2024, the Georgia State Senate Press Office released a statement regarding the contents of HB 986. HB 986 passed through the house after undergoing a third reading and proceeded to two senate readings, ultimately being tabled by the senate just before the assembly concluded. While many republican representatives voted in favor of HB 986, many democrats were opposed to the bill. The utilization of artificial intelligence has been used for political campaigns already, whether to help with marketing, speeches, emails, etc., but there is a risk that arises when it is used in politics because things that aren’t true can be curated by someone who’s making it look like a political figure has made a claim that they have not.

Following the second reading in the House, the Georgia House of Representatives updated the direction of HB 986, stating the bill moved from “the House Committee on Governmental Affairs and recommitted to the House Committee on Technology and Infrastructure Innovation”. The migration of HB 986 expanded it’s lifespan and clarified its focus, emphasizing concerns regarding specific uses of technology. Therefore, it is important because the House specifically noted that it should not be considered under “Governmental Affairs”. The debate revolves around the balance between preserving free speech and curbing the dissemination of misinformation through technological means.

The 75th speaker of the House of Representatives, Jon Burns underscored the importance of regulating artificial intelligence usage. Burns highlighted the threat posed by deepfakes and misrepresented media, emphasizing the need for legislation to safeguard the authenticity of political discourse. While HB 986 aims to criminalize such practices, concerns persist regarding the potential breadth of its application,

Brad Thomas, the representative for House District 2, introduced HB 986, emphasizing its bipartisan benefits. During Brad’s presentation, he showcased an Ai-generated video featuring two politicians discussing the bill’s implications. HB 986 proposes felony charges for individuals disseminating media during the election period, aiming to prevent the rapid growth of deepfakes that could undermine the integrity of the electoral college.

“If within 90 days of an election, a person publishes, broadcasts, streams or uploads materially deceptive media – defined as appearing to depict a real individual’s speech or conduct that did not occur in reality and would appear to a reasonable person to be authentic – they would be guilty of a felony, as long as the media in question significantly influences the chances for a candidate or referendum to win, or confuses the administration of that election. Thus, it would also criminalize using deep fakes used to cast doubt on the results of an election,” (Georgia lawmakers are using an AI deepfake video to try to ban political deepfakes | Georgia | The Guardian)

Political analyst Hank Sullivan’s blog post attracted the attention of Bill Sponsor Rep. Brad Thomas, which sparked a debate on the merits of HB 986. While some argue that the bill prematurely restricts free speech, proponents assert its necessity in combating the spread of false information during elections. The legislation aims to address concerns surrounding the authenticity of media shared during political campaigns, emphasizing the need for accountability.

Concerns regarding freedom of speech and potential violations were prominent in the discourse surrounding HB 986. Critics argue that the bill’s provisions could inhibit the sharing of humorous or satirical content during the election period, potentially criminalizing individuals for minor infractions. However, proponents contend that the legislation is crucial for maintaining the integrity of political discourse and preventing dissemination of misinformation.

Another argument is made about freedom of speech and potential violations. Rep. Brad Thomas stated in the online debate with Hank Sullivan that, “conservatives uphold free speech, not fraudulent speech”, acknowledging the concern many are feeling (Hank Sullivan v. Brad Thomas). For instance, if someone is using artificial intelligence to share false information from a politician, mind you not a video of themselves speaking or a post about themselves, then it’s not free speech if you’re speaking as if you’re someone else. The first amendment constitutes to individuals in the country, and speaking on someone else’s behalf cannot be verified to be true, which is why the HB 986 bill is important. On another note, there could have been more shaping around the punishment and those affected by HB 986, but again, freedom of speech does not mean someone should be allowed to create false media through AI, we even see this as an issue in the entertainment world with music and images. 

Julianne Thompson, news and media contributor, voiced her support for HB 986, advocating for regulations to ensure responsible AI usage. Thompson comes from a place of feeling like artificial intelligence should be controlled where need be to insure it is being used in a positive sense, rather than skewing elections and votes that determine the trajectory of our country in the coming years. As mentioned in the previous social media artifact, there needs to be regulations around what can be produced through technology. With this being said, it is not to say that if someone were to be tried in court for creating content that gets flagged in regard to HB 986, that they would not be able to testify or explain themselves. Therefore, this would be used to contain false information from being produced and spreading. Prevention is what it takes when there is not always a solution.

The presentation of an Ai-generated video by Brad Thomas, featuring endorsements from Colton Moore and Mallory Staple, exemplifies the potential for technology to influence political narratives. HB 986 would ensure that no one is “saying” anything that they wouldn’t. We live in a time when technology is developing rapidly, and having control over the truth is vital in a country and state where freedom is expected. With that being said, there are not currently any regulations trying to prohibit artificial intelligence from being used for election purposes. AI audio will be the biggest concern, and this is why Thomas wrote the bill in the first place. Over the next year, it is possible that HB 986 will be proposed again as AI continues to be used and developed. 

On March 19th, 2024, Bill Quinn discussed HB 986 in an interview with the Voice of Rural America. During the interview, there was an argument between preventing an election from being affected, or looking at it as if it’s an invasion of censorship. He discusses how people have already been sentenced to time in prison for publishing something as simple as a meme to the internet. Federal government power has decreased when it comes to control over media, so the states are doing what they can when it comes to this issue. They are not trying to suppress free speech, but again, trying to diminish false information from being shared and spread. 

The introduction of House Bill 986 marks a significant step in addressing the potential harm artificial intelligence can have on politics. Rep. Brad Thomas’s argument towards wanting to criminalize those who go against this bill should be combed through and ensured that it does not affect those mindlessly using the media for entertainment, unless it explicitly impacts politics and their campaigns. Though many people are concerned about the free speech they are promised, proponents argue that being able to control the use of AI during election season can help to ensure that misinformation does not spread and impact voting. The key principles are to prevent falsities, not to restrict speech, or one’s thoughts on politics. Therefore, it is important going forward to keep this bill in mind as we see the 2024 presidential election unfold. HB 986 will most likely continue to be revisited and reconstructed as technology continues to advance.

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