Tuesday, February 06, 2024

Speakers At Oconee County Democratic Party Meeting Differ In Their Concerns About AI Chatbots

***Partisanship Also Discussed***

Politicians have had many ways to mislead the public in the past, but the advent of AI chatbots is making political deception even more effective, communication researcher David Clementson said at a meeting with Oconee County Democrats last month.

Clementson said AI can be used to improve campaign solicitations, create better tailored campaign messages, tell implausible lies, and manipulate visuals.

To counteract these efforts, Clementon said, voters “need healthy skepticism” about the message they encounter.

Clementson was the first of two speakers at the Democratic Party meeting last month, and he was followed by Audrey Haynes, a political scientists. Both Clementson and Haynes are on the faculty at the University of Georgia.

Haynes focused most of her comments on what she called the development of “pernicious” partisanship in the United States, which she said is creating an “erosion of democratic institutions.”

Haynes also commented on AI, however, offering a more sanguine assessment of the outcome.

“I think AI can be an amazing tool,” she said, pointing particularly to developments in the provision of medical services.

Current Deception

Clementson, who teaches political communication and public relations in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, told the Democrats at their January meeting that he worked both as a journalist and in politics before he began his academic career.

Clementson 1/18/2024

“My main line of expertise, or research I conduct, involves deception in politics,” he said.

Even without AI, he said, politicians have lots of ways to be deceptive.

Campaign emails can be very misleading, he said,

“Manipulative tactics are the norm in political emails,” he said.

“They are lying to you,” he said. The messages say they are not going to ask for money and then ask for money.

The emails say that “If you give $5, somebody else will give $5. That is totally bogus,” Clementson said.

People are tricked into making recurring donations, he said. “If you don’t read the fine print, then you are donating $50 every month in perpetuity,” he said.

Both Democrats and Republicans use these tactics, Clementson said.

Campaign Solicitation

Clementson said he was speculating on the impact of the use of AI in campaigns, based on what is known already.

“The Democratic National Committee told The New York Times that they had more success raising money having an AI chatbot write emails than having humans write emails,” he said. “And how scary is that?”

“People are giving over their money for campaigns more if the email solicitation wasn’t even written by a human,” he said.

“These are robots, they are computers, they don’t have feelings,” Clementson said.

But medical research has shown that “they have more feelings, more empathy in communicating with medical patients than actual human doctors and nurses,” according to Clementson.

“It is that kind of thing that chatbots are able to exploit with humans,” he said.

Tailored Campaign Messages

Clementson said he also foresees “AI being leveraged to tailor campaign messages.”

“Chatbots can be used by politicians to generate customized campaign promises that would deceptively micro-target voters and donors,” he said.

“You might think you are in the privacy of your own computer, reading news articles, but, you are being tracked,” he said. “And your information is being sold by, say Facebook, to political parties and brands.”

“And they are able to tag you as being liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, interested in this issue or that issue,” he said. “And then they sell that information.”

“And then campaigns can put up fake articles or fake ads that you think are speaking right to you,” Clementson continued. “But they just saw exactly the articles you had been reading and the issues that you are most concerned with.”

“And they can manipulate the tone of the politicians so you think they are really speaking to you,” he said. “But they saw what you had been reading online.”

Implausible Lies

Chatbots “have this ability to tell totally implausible lies that even the most unscrupulous campaign operative might not even be able to do,” Clementson told the Democrats.

Studies show that “voters have a truth default, and that truth default is exploited.”

“We all are humans,” he said. “We have a truth default that helps us get through life. We automatically believe incoming information that we are told.”

“We don’t tend to go around questioning, scrutinizing the veracity of every bit of information,” Clementson said.

“In my experiments, I’ve seen how people are really gullible, really vulnerable to being totally lied to by politicians because their truth default is being exploited,” he said.

Politicians will be able to use chatbots to create messages to exploit that “truth default,” he said.

Manipulating Visuals

“AI can be used to manipulate images, and this is probably the most effective potential usage and the most nefarious,” he said.

Clementson 1/18/24 Taking Questions

“My own research showed that if political campaigns are smart enough to really harness the potential of AI with manipulating images, it can be very powerful, very influential,” Clementson said.

“Voters just hardly pay attention to what politicians actually say,” he said. “It is overwhelming how politicians’ nonverbal demeanor, how they look, how they sound, things that are completely illogical, irrational, have nothing really to do with what a politician ought to be judged on” have impact.

“It is just so powerful, their nonverbal communication,” he said.

Clementson said one example of this is the negative impact of showing one’s lower teeth.

This is seen as threatening, even by animals, he said. Showing upper teeth is perceived as smiling and is positive.

What To Do?

“So what’s the voter to do?” Oconee County Democratic Party Chair Harold Thompson asked Clementson. “How does the voter navigate this election?”

“The voter needs healthy skepticism,” Clementson responded. “Don’t tune it all out. Stay involved. Stay active.”

“But have some healthy skepticism,” he continued.

“And realize that we have a truth default which makes us overly skeptical of some politicians and overly gullible to some other politicians,” he said. “And we can be taken advantage of.”


Haynes, who is a professor of political science in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, told the Democrats that “When we talk about polarization we should talk about a new category of polarization, that is, pernicious–what a great word?--polarization.”

Haynes 1/18/2024

“What that word means is polarization that is truly having an erosion of democratic institutions,” said.

“You can have polarization,” she said. “We often have polarization.”

But the type of polarization the country is now experiencing “is rally hard to combat,” she said.

“What do you think it takes to resolve a political system that is so agitated, so aggrieved, so divided, distant from each other, that we can’t even pass a simple budget?” she asked.

“There are some who despise the opposite party,” she said. “It is your negative partisanship. It is your fear of what that other side is going to do.”

“We’ve got tremendous negative partisanship,” Haynes said.

State of Political Affairs

Haynes labeled her talk the “Current State of Political Affairs,” and she said polarization was a key part of the current environment.

“The House is gridlocked,” she said. “The majority has the inability to govern.”

“They can’t pass laws,” she said. “And they have a lot of internal division.”

“The Senate, which used to be bastion of people who could get along, talk to each other, is changing,” she said. “Every year, more and more moderates retire, and they are being replaced much like the House. So this process of polarization ain’t over.”

“The Supreme Court. Our school boards. Things that we used to think were far less affected by partisanship, or at least they tried to hide it more, that’s not the case,” she said.

“Our weakness at home makes us a very weak responder,” she said. In the past, “generally people got together and they worked together on international issues and they put partisanship aside. But that’s not the case any more.”

“While polarization has increased in many other areas of the world, it has really exploded here,” she said.

“It is defining who we are” she said. “We are choosing our friends based on partisanship. That can be a bit problematic.”

Impact Of AI

“All those things that people have been doing,” Haynes said. “AI is going to probably accelerate, make a little bit easier to do. But propaganda has been around forever.”

Haynes 1/18/24 Taking Questions

Haynes told the Democrats they should contact their state representatives and tell them their concerns about AI.

“There is no reason for the General Assembly not to be looking at things like this,” she said. “Tell them that you have concerns. Remind them that it is their job to act to protect their citizens from the abuse of this. Make them regulate campaigns before AI can actually do harm.”

“I think AI can be an amazing tool,” she said. “Especially in medicine, they are doing so many amazing things.”

“Maybe a chatbot might be a better doctor in some cases at least for the preliminary stuff,” she said.

Use Tools You Have

In response to a question about how to bring about change, Haynes advised the Democrats to “Use the tools you have.”

“One of the things you can do is vote in Republican primaries,” she said, “when you have someone, I say this all the time, someone that is uncontested in yours.”

“That doesn’t mean you can’t go back to being a Democrat,” she said. “You don’t lose it.”

“You can say, my candidate might have a better chance of beating this person who is so risky,” she said. “We live in a world where it is looking more and more and more like people like that can win.”

“And if you use the tools you have, you may not get stuck with the worst but rather something in between,” she said.


I was not able to attend the Jan. 18 meeting, held at the Bogart Library, but I was able to make arrangements to have the meeting video recorded.

That video is below.

Clementson began his comments at 3:14 in the video.

Haynes began speaking at 29:08.

The Oconee County Republican Party also met in January, but it will not allow me to video record–or arrange to video record–its meetings.

Agriculture Commissioner Tyler Harper was the featured speaker.

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