The global threat of disinformation to democracy and how AI might make it even worse
Political disinformation has always been a challenge to democracies. In this course you will learn how digitalisation compounded this threat and why deepfakes might become the nukes of tomorrow.
Alliance of Democracies Foundation

Knowledge tags
Election Integrity
Election Interference
EU Politics
Media Literacy
Digital Education
Digital illiteracy
European Politics
Fake News
Social Media
Foreign Interference
Influence Operation
AI Applications
International Politics
Shallow Fakes
Cheap Fakes
Public Policy
Exercise tags
Multiple Choice Quiz
Writing a One-Minute Paper
Course Description
It is becoming increasingly difficult to tell facts from fiction and technological advances are making it harder to trust even what we see with our own eyes. Election interference is by no means a new phenomenon, and the use of disinformation to change opinions of voters or sway the outcome of elections is a strategy as old as democracy itself. But recent years have seen an exponential increase of attention directed towards foreign disinformation campaigns, primarily spurred on by the Russian intervention in the 2016 US presidential election. A form of artificial intelligence and synthetic media – so-called “Deepfakes” – might take this global threat to election integrity to a dangerous new level. Through this course, you will learn why politicians are increasingly concerned about the impact of dis- and misinformation, what has been done to curb its negative effects and why deepfakes are so dangerous. You don’t have to be an expert, after all you’re here to learn, you just need to have a genuine interest in understanding how technology is affecting the world around you. Oh, and being a supporter of democracy would help too!

Unit 1 What is the Alliance of Democracies Foundation and why do they care about disinformation?
The Alliance of Democracies Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2017 by former Danish Prime Minister and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, dedicated to the advancement of democracy and free markets across the globe. The vision of the Alliance of Democracies Foundation is to become the world’s leading “megaphone” for the cause of democracy. Disinformation aims to paralyse the democratic process by fuelling social fragmentation and polarisation, sowing confusion and uncertainty about fact-based reality. This undermines trust in the integrity of democratic politics and institutions. The Alliance of Democracies’ Transatlantic Commission on Election Integrity (TCEI) recognises the threat of disinformation and technology on democratic processes. To address this challenge, the TCEI aims to share best practices between decision-makers and institutions across the globe and raise public awareness about the risks of interference. It even created a game, The Disinformation Diaries, a game-based media literacy tool. Give it a try in the materials below. Note: Make sure for each unit you watch all the videos and read through all the materials provided. You also need to complete the required exercises to finish each unit!
Unit 2 What is disinformation?
The digitalisation of society has brought plenty of new opportunities, but also poses a number of questions and challenges to our democracies. While it has enabled more people to participate in the political debate, it has also created substantial loopholes which have allowed foreign and domestic actors to manipulate and exploit the new communications ecosystem. Since the US presidential elections in 2016, democratic governments, social media platforms, and academics around the globe, have discussed how to best mitigate the adverse effects on democracies in the digital age. In general, disinformation is one of the key means to interfere in democratic elections and undermine the democratic process in a country. As rightly referred to in the European Democracy Action Plan (EDAP), it is important to distinguish between different phenomena that are commonly referred to as ‘disinformation’ to allow for the design of appropriate policy responses: • Misinformation is false or misleading content shared without harmful intent though the effects can still be harmful, e.g., when people share false information with friends and family thinking it’s true. • Disinformation is false or misleading content that is spread with an intention to deceive, or secure economic or political gain, and which may cause public harm. • Information influence operation refers to coordinated efforts by either domestic or foreign actors to influence a target audience using a range of deceptive means, including suppressing independent information sources. It’s often in combination with disinformation. • Foreign interference in the information space, is often carried out as part of a broader hybrid operation. It can be understood as coercive and deceptive efforts to disrupt the free formation and expression of individuals’ political will, by a foreign state actor or its agents. The videos and materials below will help to explain the differences between those key terms. It will also set out why the Alliance of Democracies takes a keen interest in the effect of disinformation on democracy.
Unit 3 What are deepfakes? And why should I care?
At a time where it is already increasingly difficult to tell facts from fiction, and information from disinformation, technological advances are making it difficult to trust even what we see with our own eyes. The introduction of deepfake-technology, a way to digitally fabricate video and audio using AI and machine learning algorithms, enables the insertion of faces and voices into video recordings of actual people to create realistic impersonations. The technology to create deepfakes often involves the use of “neural networks,” a set of algorithms designed to recognise patterns. The technology is further advanced by the use of generative adversarial networks (GANs), which brings two neural networks to bear at the same time. These two networks simultaneously produce and assess a sample from the dataset with a speed, scale, and nuance that human reviewers cannot achieve. Find out more about what deepfakes are, and why they matter, through the videos and materials below – with a guest appearance from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
Unit 4 How can deepfakes be identified?
The expansion of deepfake technology is enabling more sophisticated fake videos, but also making it more accessible for people with less developed technological skills. By just googling deepfakes, an abundance of ‘how to’ information and deepfake apps pop up. Private individuals are able to produce content depicting famous actors, politicians and other public figures. In fact, experts believe deepfake tools have become so widespread that anyone with a little technical knowledge will, from the comfort of their home, be able to make a video of any person doing and saying whatever they want. In this unit, you will learn how deepfakes can be identified, as well as how they can be distinguished from other types of manipulated media such as “cheap fakes” and “shallow fakes”: • ‘Deepfakes’ are synthetic media in which faces and voices are inserted into video recordings or images of actual people to create realistic impersonations, using AI and machine learning algorithms • ‘Cheap fakes’ or ‘Shallow fakes’ are methods of manipulating media content without the use of machine learning technology and algorithmic systems. Instead, they use simple video editing software, Photoshop, lookalikes, or simply adjusting the speed of a video. However, cheap fakes and shallow fakes can still have a significant influence – check out the video below where Nancy Pelosi’s speech has been slowed-down.
Unit 5 How and why are deepfakes dangerous? And what can be done about it?
Deepfake technology has the possibility to create an abundance of new opportunities in the field of education, medicine, the arts, and even politics. In fact, deepfakes have even been used for “positive campaigning” in an election by a political leader, in the 2020 Legislative Assembly elections in Delhi, who manipulated a video to address new ethnic groups in his constituency. However, deepfake technology can also cause significant harm to democracy – and truth. Deepfakes can influence a democratic process through the direct use of false material to change an election result, as well as worsen pre-existing social divisions and affect citizen’s trust in the media, institutions, and public authorities. In January 2021, social media users and avid supporters of President Donald Trump, claimed that a video in which the outgoing president acknowledged President-elect Biden’s victory was a deepfake. However, it was swiftly confirmed by the White House that the video was categorically not a deepfake. As mentioned in earlier units, this weaponization of deepfakes as an ‘excuse’ has the potential to cause real damage. There are very few legal or policy solutions to this challenge. Governments, international bodies, as well as tech professionals are scrambling to find the best possible approaches to defend democracies and democratic institutions. Indeed, any policy responses seeking to address deepfakes would likely face constitutional and other legal challenges, along with the technical complications of how to detect deepfakes in the first place. So, some key questions to ask are: What is the maturity of deepfake detection technology? What can be done to educate the public about deepfakes? Should manipulated media be marked or labeled? What should the roles of media outlets and social media companies be in detecting and moderating content that has been altered or falsified? And many, many, more. After completing the course, why not check out our website and sign up to our newsletter! ( Note: It may take some time for your exercises to be approved, but rest assured that your answers are in good hands!