An infamous army general who ruled Indonesia for nearly thirty years with an iron hold has a message for voters from beyond the grave ahead of the next elections.
The former general introduces himself in a three-minute video that has received over 4.7 million views on X and has also gone viral on Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok. “I am Suharto, the second president of Indonesia,” the general states.
The man with a powerful appearance in the video is not the former president of Indonesia, even though it initially seems believable. The genuine Suharto, known as the “Smiling General” due to his constant smiles in the meanness of his brutal management style, passed away in 2008 at the age of 86.
The video was a deepfake produced by artificial intelligence (AI) that used techniques to clone the voice and visage of Suharto. Erwin Aksa, deputy chairman of Golkar, one of the biggest and most established political parties in Indonesia, stated, “The video was made to remind us how important our votes are in the upcoming election.” Before the elections on February 14, he originally posted the video on X.
A deepfake audio was directed at Slovakian progressive politician Michal Simecka during a close election campaign that he ultimately lost. More than 200 million people are expected to cast ballots in this year’s election, in which the party is one of 18 contestants. Golkar is not fielding its presidential candidate. He has supported Prabowo Subianto, the front-runner and former son-in-law of Suharto, who was an army general under the military dictatorship.
A few weeks before the election, Golkar brought back to life a long-dead leader with the intention of influencing voters to support the Suharto-affiliated party.
Aksa posted on X saying, As a member of Golkar, I am quite proud of Suharto since he effectively developed Indonesia. He brought a lot of success. We must appreciate it and remember his services — Golkar was there.
However, several criticized the use of a deceased man’s voice and visage online, particularly when it came to political propaganda. One Indonesian commented on X, saying, “This is the state of our country today-bringing dead dictators back to life to fool and scare us into votes.”
🤖🇮🇩 The ghost of Indonesia's past resurfaces via a #Deepfake video. Far from a movie script, this AI 'resurrected' ex-president Suharto for a political campaign 🗳️. A new saga unfolds in #AI-electioneering. pic.twitter.com/glhwcHWTM3
— Talk AI Today (@TalkAIToday) February 12, 2024
When did making deepfakes of deceased individuals become morally acceptable? Someone else commented, “It feels so morally wrong.
Voting in an era of deepfakes
The Internet community heavily influences politics in Indonesia. In a nation where internet usage is among the greatest globally, nearly every political party and individual politician has a significant social media following to gain influence and support.
Deepfakes have the potential to significantly impact both the campaign track and the outcome of elections, according to Golda Benjamin, Asia Pacific campaign manager at Access Now, a US nonprofit committed to digital rights.
The speed at which it circulates poses a threat. A deepfake can quickly spread to millions of people, influencing and controlling millions of voters.
CNN was informed by viewers before this year’s election that numerous major parties have resorted to artificial intelligence (AI) and employed a range of deepfakes for political purposes.
They said that the Golkar-produced Suharto movie was part of several dozen official party efforts.
Prabowo Subianto, the current defense minister of Indonesia, acknowledged using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to give their leader an adorable animation makeover on TikTok to appeal to younger people after receiving flak from the public. Approximately 114 million voters in Indonesia are under 40 years old, and they cast the bulk of ballots.
In Indonesia generative AI/deepfake tech has been used to "resurrect" a former (late) president/dictator Suharto. Elections next month. The video was posted by a politician from Suharto's party. "Suharto" called to vote on the party (he's dead since 2008) https://t.co/GwlVbHO1O7 pic.twitter.com/C02Lg7ks2B
— Lukasz Olejnik, ☕️🥐 (@lukOlejnik) January 22, 2024
In another video that drew strong criticism, the party used AI-generated children in a TV ad to get around restrictions that forbid minors from taking part in political campaigns.
After watchdog groups criticized the advertising, Prabowo’s nephew Budisatrio Djiwandono, the spokesperson for his nationalist right-wing Gerindra Party, released a statement saying, ” Such cutting-edge technology is being deployed. We can understand if some people mistook (the children) as real characters.”
To contact prospective voters, the party of former governor Ganjar Pranowo of Central Java employed an interactive AI chatbot. Ganjar’s party has also utilized AI images created by his fans in their campaign. CNN has contacted representatives of Ganjar’s Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP) for comments.
After falling victim to an audio deepfake in January, former Jakarta governor Anies Baswedan, the third presidential candidate, has issued a warning against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the election. His campaign uses an OpenAI-powered chatbot on WhatsApp that responds to inquiries about his ideas. An edited video showing Anies allegedly receiving criticism from a political supporter went viral on the internet.
Later that month, Anies said at a campaign event, “We have to be critical because there is now AI technology that can generate audio or visuals that can appear real.”
Following a number of widely shared AI videos, the Indonesian Ministry of Communications released cautions alerting voters and tech businesses to the dangers of deepfakes. But, as watchdog groups informed CNN, attempts have fallen short.
A Jakarta-based nonprofit organization called TAPP (Tim Advokasi Peduli Pemilu) said that images such as the Suharto deepfake established how AI might be used to swing elections.
The administration is still ignorant of the risks posed by deepfakes, according to spokesman Gugum Ridho Putra.
He continues, “This is just the beginning of what AI is capable of. We are worried about voter manipulation, particularly this close to the election.”
The Suharto “ghost”
International rights organizations rank the 32-year Suharto dictatorship as one of the most violent and corrupt eras in Indonesian history.
As he tied down critics and political opponents and reduced his regime’s control over East Timor, Aceh, West Papua, and the Maluku islands, many were imprisoned or died throughout his reign.
In Indonesia, talking about his power is still mostly glowered upon, and perspectives on his legacy are divided.
However, his image is throughout Kemusuk, the village near Yogyakarta where he was born, from souvenir T-shirts featuring his smiling visage to museum antiques honoring his life. He is now enjoying a newfound internet celebrity.
According to SOAS University of London professor and Indonesian author-composer Soe Tjen Marching, “The video’s virality speaks to his influence and relevance in modern-day Indonesia. Despite having passed away a long time ago, he still maintains a large following. His soul remains there.
However, the dictator’s reappearance “was disarming” to those like 55-year-old retired Officer Anton Pratama, who was raised during the Suharto era.
After his son showed him the video, Anton told CNN, “It is not so much about seeing him again or believing he is still alive. The concern is that Suharto and his philosophy could resurface in the nation.”