Dance videos of Modi, rival turn up AI heat in India election

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) symbol during a roadshow as part of an election campaign, in Varanasi, India, May 13, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 16 May 2024

Dance videos of Modi, rival turn up AI heat in India election

  • Videos created using AI underscore how its use and abuse is increasing and creating worries for regulators
  • WEF says risk to India from misinformation higher than risk from infectious diseases, illicit economic activity 

NEW DELHI: An AI video shows an ecstatic Narendra Modi sporting a trendy jacket and trousers, grooving on a stage to a Bollywood song as the crowd cheers. The Indian prime minister reshared the video on X, saying “such creativity in peak poll season is truly a delight.”
Another video, with the same stage setting, shows Modi’s rival Mamata Banerjee dancing in a saree-like outfit, but the background score is parts of her speech criticizing those who quit her party to join Modi’s. State police have launched an investigation saying the video can “affect law and order.”
The different reactions to videos created using artificial intelligence (AI) tools underscore how the use and abuse of the technology is increasing and creating worries for regulators and security officials as the world’s most populous nation holds a mammoth general election.
Easy to make AI videos, which contain near-perfect shadow and hand movements, can at times mislead even digitally-literate people. But risks are higher in a country where many of the 1.4 billion people are tech challenged and where manipulated content can easily stir sectarian tensions, especially at election time.
According to a World Economic Forum survey published in January, the risk to India from misinformation is seen higher than the risk from infectious diseases or illicit economic activity in the next two years.
“India is already at a great risk of misinformation — with AI in picture, it can spread at the speed of 100X,” said New Delhi-based consultant Sagar Vishnoi, who is advising some political parties on AI use in India’s election.
“Elderly people, often not a tech savvy group, increasingly fall for fake narratives aided by AI videos. This could have serious consequences like triggering hatred against a community, caste or religion.”
The 2024 national election – being held over six weeks and ending on June 1 – is the first in which AI is being deployed. Initial examples were innocent, restricted to some politicians using the technology to create videos and audio to personalize their campaigns.
But major cases of misuse hit the headlines in April including deepfakes of Bollywood actors criticizing Modi and fake clips involving two of Modi’s top aides that led to the arrest of nine people.
India’s Election Commission last week warned political parties against AI use to spread misinformation and shared seven provisions of information technology and other laws that attract jail terms of up to three years for offenses including forgery, promoting rumors and enmity.
A senior national security official in New Delhi said authorities are concerned about the possibility of fake news leading to unrest. The easy availability of AI tools makes it possible to manufacture such fake news, especially during elections, and it’s difficult to counter, the official said.
“We don’t have an (adequate monitoring) capacity...the ever evolving AI environment is difficult to keep track of,” said the official.
A senior election official said: “We aren’t able to fully monitor social media, forget about controlling content.”
They declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to media.
AI and deepfakes are being increasingly used in elections elsewhere in the world, including in US, Pakistan and Indonesia. The latest spread of the videos in India shows the challenges faced by authorities.
For years, an Indian IT ministry panel has been in place to order blocking of content that it feels can harm public order, at its own discretion or on receiving complaints. During this election, the poll watchdog and police across the nation have deployed hundreds of officials to detect and seek removal of problematic content.
While Modi’s reaction to his AI dancing video — “I also enjoyed seeing myself dance” — was light hearted, the Kolkata city police in West Bengal state launched an investigation against X user, SoldierSaffron7, for sharing the Banerjee video.
Kolkata cybercrime officer, Dulal Saha Roy, shared a typed notice on X asking the user to delete the video or “be liable for strict penal action.”
“I am not deleting that, no matter what happens,” the user told Reuters via X direct messaging, declining to share their number or real name as they feared police action. “They can’t trace (me).”
Election officers told Reuters authorities can only tell social media platforms to remove content and are left scrambling if the platforms say the posts don’t violate their internal policies.
The Modi and Banerjee dancing videos, with 30 million and 1.1 million views respectively on X, were created using a free website, Viggle. The site allows a photograph and a few basic prompts that are detailed in a tutorial to generate videos within minutes that show the person in the photograph dancing or making other real-life moves.
Viggle co-founder Hang Chu and Banerjee’s office did not respond to Reuters queries.
Other than the two dancing AI videos, one other 25-second Viggle video spreading online shows Banerjee appear in front of a burning hospital and blowing it up using a remote. It’s an AI altered clip of a scene from the 2008 movie, The Dark Knight, that shows Batman’s foe, Joker, wreaking havoc.
The video post has 420,000 views.
The West Bengal police believes it violates Indian IT laws, but X has not taken any action as it “strongly believes in defending and respecting the voice of our users,” according to an email notice sent by X to the user, which Reuters reviewed.
“They can’t do anything to me. I didn’t take that (notice) seriously,” the user told Reuters via X direct messaging.

Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

Updated 1 sec ago

Denmark aims to limit shadow fleet of Russian oil tankers

  • Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits
COPENHAGEN: Denmark is considering ways to limit the passage of old tankers carrying Russian oil through the Baltic Sea, the Nordic country’s foreign minister said in a statement on Monday, in a move that could trigger confrontation with Moscow.
Russia sends about a third of its seaborne oil exports, or 1.5 percent of global supply, through the Danish straits that sit as a gateway to the Baltic Sea, so any attempt to halt supplies would send oil prices higher and hit the Kremlin’s finances.
Denmark has brought together a group of allied countries evaluating measures targeting the so-called shadow fleet of aging ships transporting the Russian oil, Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.

NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

Updated 17 June 2024

NATO in talks to put nuclear weapons on standby, Stoltenberg tells UK’s Telegraph

  • Jens Stoltenberg tells paper there are live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent
  • ‘Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance’

LONDON: NATO is in talks to deploy more nuclear weapons, taking them out of storage and placing them on standby, in the face of a growing threat from Russia and China, the head of the alliance said on Monday.
Jens Stoltenberg told Britain’s Telegraph newspaper that there were live consultations between members to use transparency around its nuclear arsenal as a deterrent.
“I won’t go into operational details about how many nuclear warheads should be operational and which should be stored, but we need to consult on these issues. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” he told the paper.
“Transparency helps to communicate the direct message that we, of course, are a nuclear alliance.”
“NATO’s aim is, of course, a world without nuclear weapons, but as long as nuclear weapons exist, we will remain a nuclear alliance, because a world where Russia, China and North Korea have nuclear weapons, and NATO does not, is a more dangerous world.”
Stoltenberg said last week that nuclear weapons were NATO’s “ultimate security guarantee” and a means to preserve peace.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned that Moscow could use nuclear weapons to defend itself in extreme circumstances. It accuses the US and its European allies of pushing the world to the brink of nuclear confrontation by giving Ukraine billions of dollars worth of weapons, some of which are being used against Russian territory.
NATO, which has taken on a greater role in coordinating arms supplies to Kyiv, rarely talks about weapons publicly, although it is known that the US has deployed nuclear bombs to several locations in Europe.

Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

Updated 31 min 45 sec ago

Afghan Taliban govt says to attend next round of UN talks in Doha

  • Taliban government were not included in first set of talks, refused invitation to second round in February
  • The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1 and have already been criticized by women’s groups

KABUL: Taliban authorities will attend the third round of United Nations-hosted talks on Afghanistan in the Qatari capital, a government spokesman said on Sunday, after snubbing an invitation to the previous round.

The Taliban government’s participation in the conference of foreign special envoys to Afghanistan had been in doubt after it was not included in the first set of talks and then refused an invitation to the second round in February.

“A delegation of the Islamic Emirate will participate in the coming Doha conference. They will represent Afghanistan there and express Afghanistan’s position,” Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP.

The talks in Doha are scheduled for June 30 and July 1, and have already been criticized by women’s groups.

Mujahid told Afghan media on Sunday that a delegation — yet to be announced — would attend because the talks’ agenda appeared “beneficial to Afghanistan.”

The agenda includes “topics such as aid for Afghanistan and creating opportunities for investors in Afghanistan, which are important,” he said.

However, foreign ministry spokesman Abdul Qahar Balkhi warned in a post on social media site X later on Sunday that “if there are any changes to the agenda and participation, it would naturally affect our decision” to attend.

Launched by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in May 2023, the series of talks aim to “increase international engagement with Afghanistan in a more coherent, coordinated and structured manner,” according to the UN.

Civil society groups that included women were invited to the February talks but the Taliban government refused to participate unless its members could be the sole representatives of Afghanistan.

It also requested to meet Guterres, who at the time said the set of conditions to participate “were not acceptable.”

In recent weeks, multiple UN representatives and international envoys have held meetings with the Taliban government on the next Doha talks, which Guterres will not attend.

Diplomatic sources told AFP there were plans to consult with Afghan civil society groups before and after the next talks, but that they would not take part in meetings that include the Taliban authorities.

The sources said the official meetings were due to cover finance and economic issues, as well as counternarcotics efforts.

Several civil society groups have urged the UN to prioritize women’s rights and include Afghan women.

“The world must provide platforms for the people and women of Afghanistan to discuss the future of their country,” Afghan women’s rights activist Hoda Khamosh, now based in Norway, told AFP.

“Still, they are not heard because the world is interacting anyway with the Taliban, even if they say they do not recognize them.”

The international community has wrestled with its approach to the Taliban government since it returned to power in 2021, still not officially recognized by any other state.

The Taliban government has imposed a strict interpretation of Islam, with women subjected to laws characterised by the UN as “gender apartheid.”

Human Rights Watch’s Associate Women’s Rights Director, Heather Barr, said the Taliban should not have been allowed to make demands on the conditions of the meetings considering their policies targeting women.

“It is unthinkable that diplomats could gather to discuss Afghanistan in the middle of such a crisis and do so without women’s rights being the main issue on the agenda and Afghan women being full participants in the discussion,” she told AFP.

Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo, extended Taliban Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi an advance invitation to the talks during a visit to Afghanistan in May, a statement said.

A key element of the talks held in the Gulf state, which hosted the Taliban during years of peace talks with the United States, is a UN independent assessment on Afghanistan released late last year.

The assessment, backed by Western nations, suggested recognition of the Taliban authorities be tied to the removal of restraints on women’s rights and access to education.

It also recommends the appointment of a UN special envoy, which the Taliban government has rejected.

Seven killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

Updated 17 min 10 sec ago

Seven killed as Indian passenger and goods trains collide

  • Images on Indian broadcasters showed tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side
  • India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years

KOLKATA: At least seven people were killed when an express passenger train and a goods train collided Monday in India’s West Bengal state, derailing three passenger carriages, police said.

Images on Indian broadcasters showed the tangled wreckage of carriages flipped on their side, and one thrust high into the air precariously balanced on another.

Police said rescuers were scouring the twisted carriages in case there were more bodies trapped beneath.

“We have confirmation of seven deaths and 39 passengers admitted at a local hospital with various injuries,” local police officer Iftikar-Ul-Hassan told AFP.

The incident is the latest to hit India’s creaking rail network, which carries millions of passengers each day.

“We just saw the bodies of a dead driver and a guard... their bodies were taken out,” Rajesh Kumar Singh, from the Railway Protection Force, told AFP.

“Some more bodies may be under the crash site, but we don’t yet know for sure.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi offered his condolences to “those who lost their loved ones,” in a post on social media, adding that “rescue operations are underway.”

West Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called the crash “tragic” in a post on social media.

“Doctors, ambulances and disaster teams have been rushed to the site for rescue, recovery, medical assistance,” Banerjee said. “Action on war footing initiated.”

Banerjee said the crash took place in the Phansidewa area of Darjeeling district, when the Kanchenjunga Express train was hit by a goods train.

Railways minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said the “injured are being shifted to the hospital.”

India has one of the world’s largest rail networks and has seen several disasters over the years, the worst in 1981 when a train derailed while crossing a bridge in Bihar state, killing an estimated 800 people.

In June last year, a three-train collision killed nearly 300 people in Odisha state.

In recent years, India has been investing huge sums of money to upgrade the network with modern stations and electronic signalling systems.

On Sunday, a train crossed for the first time the world’s highest railway bridge — 359 meters (1178 feet) above a river — in India’s Himalayan region, the railways minister Vaishnaw said.

The arch-shaped steel structure over the Chenab River links sections of northern Jammu and Kashmir state, connecting the disputed territory to the rest of India.

Work on the railway track has been ongoing for nearly three decades, and the trial run comes ahead of a formal opening expected within weeks.

Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

Updated 17 June 2024

Strong winds, steep terrain hamper crews battling Los Angeles area’s first major fire of the year

  • Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 60 square kilometers
  • The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just two percent contained Sunday evening

GORMAN, California: Strong winds pushed flames through dry brush in mountains along Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles on Sunday, and officials warned residents in the wildfire’s path to be prepared to leave if it explodes in size again.
Los Angeles County’s first major wildfire of the year swiftly grew to nearly 23 square miles (60 square kilometers), one day after it forced the evacuation of at least 1,200 campers, off-roaders and hikers from the Hungry Valley recreation area.
The blaze, dubbed the Post Fire, was just 2 percent contained Sunday evening. No injuries were reported. The cause was under investigation.
Firefighters working in sweltering conditions and steep terrain raced to douse spot fires that erupted as unpredictable winds blew embers ahead of the flames, said Kenichi Haskett, a section chief for the LA County Fire Department. The gusts also hampered efforts by aircraft crews to drop water and fire retardant, he said.
“When it’s windy, it just sprays the water everywhere we don’t need it. So that’s a challenge,” Haskett said.
Meanwhile in Northern California, a small wildfire sparked Sunday prompted evacuation orders and warnings for a sparsely populated area near Lake Sonoma. The so-called Point Fire sent up a huge plume of dark smoke as it churned through brush and timber about 80 miles (130 kilometers) north of San Francisco. It was 15 percent contained.
The Southern California fire erupted Saturday afternoon near I-5 in Gorman, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northwest of Los Angeles. Two structures burned within the evacuated recreation area.
Flames were moving toward Pyramid Lake, a popular destination for boaters that was closed as a precaution on Father’s Day. No houses were threatened Sunday, but officials warned residents of Castaic, home to about 19,000 people, that they should prepare to leave if the fire pushes further south.
“If you’re in a warning area, be prepared with a ‘go bag,’ with overnight clothes and your cellphone, your medicines, your glasses. Have your car fueled up,” said Haskett. “Be ready to evacuate.”
Low humidity and gusts around 50 mph (80 kph) were expected throughout the day, and winds could pick up speed after sundown, warned the National Weather Service office for Los Angeles.
About 75 miles (120 kilometers) to the east, the nearly 2-square-mile (5-square-kilometer) Hesperia Fire forced road closures and prompted evacuation warnings after it broke out Saturday near mountain communities in San Bernardino County. The blaze was 19 percent contained Sunday evening.