Hillary Clinton
Image: Prime Minister's Office Finland / Nikolai Jakobsen

Hillary Clinton: AI and deepfakes pose a ‘totally different type of threat’

Calling artificial intelligence and deepfakes “a leap in technology,” former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that people using AI for undemocratic purposes are honing their skills by working with her likeness.

“Because they've got such a library of stuff about me, they're using it to practice on and see how more sophisticated they can get,” Clinton said during an Aspen Digital conference interview focused on elections and artificial intelligence.

“I am worried because having defamatory videos about you is no fun, I can tell you that,” Clinton added, calling the technology a “totally different type of threat.”

Clinton said she is astounded by how disinformation fueled by social media and the prevalence of AI-generated disinformation has grown, saying that during the 2016 election she and her staff didn’t understand what was then a new threat.

“We knew that something was going on, but we didn't understand the full extent of the very clever way in which it was insinuated into social media,” Clinton said. “It worked: There are people today who think I've done all these terrible things because they saw it on the internet … in their Facebook feed.”

Clinton said the scary thing about so many people believing the disinformation swirling around her in 2016 is how “primitive” the technology was at that point.

Clinton also used the interview as a chance to call for the overturning of Section 230, which is part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and which generally gives immunity for online computer services in terms of third-party content generated by its users. Many experts believe that Section 230 is a key factor in allowing disinformation to flourish online.

Two Supreme Court challenges last year left Section 230 intact. Clinton called that a mistake.

“It's very difficult to be as upset with the tech companies as we are and I think rightly so, since they were granted this impunity … back in the late ‘90s,” she said. “Shame on us that we are still sitting around talking about it — Section 230 has to go.”

Clinton said she believes tech company profits won’t dip if it does.

“They will continue to make an enormous amount of money if they change their algorithms to prevent the kind of harm caused by sending people to the lowest common denominator every time they log on,” she said “You've got to stop this reward for this kind of negative, virulent content.

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Suzanne Smalley

Suzanne Smalley

is a reporter covering privacy, disinformation and cybersecurity policy for The Record. She was previously a cybersecurity reporter at CyberScoop and Reuters. Earlier in her career Suzanne covered the Boston Police Department for the Boston Globe and two presidential campaign cycles for Newsweek. She lives in Washington with her husband and three children.