Comedy Central’s Daily Show may have inadvertently violated one of Michigan’s new election laws, which was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 30.
The long-running comedy series posted a video of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis from Tuesday night’s Republican Presidential Candidates’ Debate with Artificial Intelligence-generated vocal overdubs meant to generate audience laughter by mimicking the governor’s voice for an imagined inner monologue.
Just be normal, Ron. You got this. pic.twitter.com/jGKB8enPsP
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) December 7, 2023
Although the video could be deemed comedic, it may also violate House Bill 5144, which Whitmer signed into law less than two weeks ago. HB 5144 renders illegal any AI generated media intended to induce harm to a candidate’s personal reputation or electoral prospects within 90 days of an election. Michigan’s 2024 primary election will be held Feb. 27.
A violation of HB 5144 would include deception of voters who may believe DeSantis’ AI-generated voiceovers are real.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, D-East Lansing.
“In the ever-evolving landscape of political campaigns, today’s signing of House Bills 5141 and 5144 underscores our commitment to upholding the integrity of our democratic process,” Tsernoglou said in a statement released Nov. 30. “As artificial intelligence becomes more intertwined with political advertising, it’s crucial that we safeguard the truth in our elections. In an era where trust in our democratic institutions is paramount, these measures champion honesty and transparency — the bedrock principles of our democracy. Let’s continue working towards an electoral system where every voter is empowered by the truth and where our democracy stands firmly against deception.”
House Bill 5145, sponsored by Rep. Noah Arbit, D-West Bloomfield, also signed into law by Whitmer, makes violating HB 5144 more than once in a five-year period a felony.
A first violation of HB 5145 is deemed a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days’ imprisonment, a $500 fine or both. A second violation within five years is a felony punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of $1,000 or both.
“Artificial Intelligence is a rapidly evolving technology. As we go forward, it’s going to have an even greater impact on our elections process and how people consume political information leading up to elections,” Rep. Matthew Bierlein, R-Vassar, said in a statement. “Transparency is crucial as this technology moves forward and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues across the aisle on a bipartisan package to address these evolving concerns.”
Michigan is the fifth state in the nation to enact laws related to the use of AI in elections.
According to Legislative Analyst Abby Schneider the rationale for HB 4145 derives from the increasing use of AI.
“Political campaigns have already used AI, and some believe that the proliferation of AI-generated images and other media could be used to misinform voters and interfere with elections,” Schneider wrote. “For example, prospective Republican presidential nominee Ron DeSantis allegedly used AI-generated images of opponent Donald J. Trump hugging Dr. Anthony Fauci in a campaign ad. DeSantis did not disclose the use of AI in the ad. With the 2024 presidential election approaching, it has been suggested that Michigan impose restrictions on the use of AI to limit the spread of misinformation.”
A Michigan Senate Fiscal Analysis was more detailed.
“If the qualified political advertisement were a video communication that also included audio, the statement [specifying that the qualified political advertisement was generated in whole or substantially by artificial intelligence] would have to appear for at least four seconds in letters at least as large as the majority of any text communication, or if there were no other text communication, in a size that was easily readable by the average viewer, be spoken in a clearly audible and intelligible manner at the beginning or end of the communication and last at least three seconds, and be in the same language as the language used in the video communication.”
Since the Daily Show is designated an entertainment program, exemptions in the bill more than likely don’t apply.
One of the exceptions is news casts, news interviews, and news documentaries. Another exemption is a “radio or television broadcasting station, including a cable or satellite television operator, programmer, or producer, when the station was paid to broadcast qualified political advertisements.”
Also exempted are a “distribution platform, including a website or a regularly published newspaper, magazine, or other periodical of general circulation, including an internet or electronic publication, that routinely carried news and commentary of general interest and that published prohibited qualified political advertisements, if the distribution platform had a clearly stated written policy, provided to any person, committee, or other entity that created, sought to publish, or originally distributed a qualified political advertisement, that the qualified political advertisement had to include a statement consistent with the bill’s requirements.”
The final exemption listed is a “qualified political advertisement that constituted satire or parody.” Although the Daily Show often features satire and parody, it’s doubtful it qualifies as a political advertisement.