Tamil Nadu Finance Minister Palanivel Thiaga Rajan on Wednesday, 26 April, took to Twitter to allege that a “blackmail gang” was making a “desperate attempt” to disparage him and the ruling DMK in the state by releasing fabricated audio clips.
His video message came a day after Tamil Nadu BJP chief K Annamalai released an audio clip claiming to contain the voice of PTR purportedly talking about the influence wielded by Udhayanidhi Stalin and Sabareesan — the son and son-in-law, respectively, of Chief Minister MK Stalin.
This was the second such audio clip released so far.
In the first, PTR purportedly is heard claiming that the top DMK leadership in the state was “minting crores at the expense of the common man”.
PTR on Saturday released a statement and visual analyses that sought to show how audio snippets from different instances were spliced together to create the clip Annamalai had shared.
This is hardly the first time Annamalai has been accused of releasing allegedly doctored content to target the DMK.
Besides an audio clip from earlier this month, Annamalai in January released “edited” clips that attempted to show Tamil Nadu’s ruling party in poor light.
‘Deepfakes to the fore’
PTR released a four-minute-56-second video on Wednesday as what he said was a “continuation” of his statement from Saturday.
As he began his statement, he said: “I want to show you some examples of how advanced AI technologies can create deepfake videos.”
He went on to show three different videos of BJP leader Manoj Tiwari — a Lok Sabha member from the East Delhi constituency — where the facial and hand movements were the same, but the lip movements and the corresponding words being spoken were different.
He also showed a video of Hollywood director and comedian Jordan Peele — who is known for his impersonation of former US President Barack Obama — being used to “animate” a clip of the latter.
PTR even showed a deepfake of former US President Donald Trump starting to tell a story to children.
Continuation of my statement of 22nd April, 2023 pic.twitter.com/Z3H6is3XzF
— Dr P Thiaga Rajan (PTR) (@ptrmadurai) April 26, 2023
What PTR said
While showing the aforementioned deepfake videos, the Tamil Nadu finance minister said: “Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the Internet.”
He added: “If such authentic-looking videos can be machine-generated, imagine what all can be done with audio files.”
He also said: “I strongly and specifically deny, I having said to any individual, personally or on the phone, at any point of time, what is contained in the audio clip being circulated on social media since yesterday, the source of which nobody accepts ownership for.”
PTR also launched a broadside at Annamalai, saying: “The state president of the BJP has descended to posting an audio of somebody telling nobody about some others. This is the base level of his politics [sic].”
He went on to extol the achievements of the DMK government in Tamil Nadu under Chief Minister Stalin, adding: “Certain forces are unable to digest these achievements. So, they are indulging in using advanced technologies and cheap tactics such as releasing these fabricated audios to disrupt our good work.”
He also praised the works undertaken by not only Udhayanidhi Stalin and Sabareesan but also other ministers in the Tamil Nadu Cabinet.
PTR bookended that part by saying: “Why would I ever say anything negative about any of them?”
He also said: “There is a desperate attempt by a blackmail gang to achieve their political ambitions by creating a rift within us. Such cowardly attempts will never succeed.”
The previous statement
The DMK leader on Saturday described as “malicious, fabricated” the viral audio clip in which he purportedly commented on corruption in the DMK’s “first family”.
Attaching two technical analyses of the clip, PTR put up a two-page statement on his Twitter handle to assert that anyone could create such clips with the help of technology.
“Please note that publicly available technical analysis of the alleged clip clearly shows it is not authentic,” the statement said.
“With the ability to create fabricated and/or machine-generated clips using advanced technology that is easily accessible, we should not be surprised to see more audio and even video clips in the coming days and months with ever-more malicious content,” he added.
He also said he was “distressed to find that traditional media” was also reporting on “such fabricated, malicious third-hand information”.
My statement on the 26-second malicious fabricated audio clip pic.twitter.com/KM85dogIgh
— Dr P Thiaga Rajan (PTR) (@ptrmadurai) April 22, 2023
What are deepfakes?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes a deepfake as “an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said”.
Creating a deepfake has become relatively easier and cheaper — and at times even free! — over the past few years.
For example, the website deepfakewebs.com charges $4 (around ₹327) an hour to create deepfakes in a few simple steps.
A basic deepfake costs about $20 (around ₹1,635), while a high-quality deepfake costs $80 (around ₹6,540).
For comparison, the security deposit for a single candidate from the general category in a Lok Sabha race is ₹25,000, while that for an Assembly election is ₹10,000.