Hines' challenge raises question: If a robot quotes accurately, is an ad deceitful?

A challenge to a Triangle political ad is placing the spotlight on whether emerging technology, even if being used to accurately quote a candidate, is unfit to air.

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Bo Hines speaks at Trump rally
Bryan Anderson
, WRAL state government reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — A challenge to a Triangle political ad is placing the spotlight on whether emerging technology, even if being used to accurately quote a candidate, is unfit to air.

With the May 17 primary nearing, Republican political newcomer Bo Hines is seeking to have an ad taken off the airwaves that his campaign considers highly misleading.

The 26-year-old’s campaign in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District said it issued cease-and-desist letters late Wednesday to several news outlets, including WRAL-TV, seeking to have an ad removed that portrays Hines as a liberal. The campaign’s reasoning: Hines’ own words appeared to be stated by a robotic depiction of him—but not him.

The television ad from Old North PAC, a Texas-based political action committee that formed on April 27, twice shows a digital representation of the candidate mouthing the words, “I’m a lot more liberal on certain social issues.”

The partial quote was taken verbatim from a 2017 article by the Hartford Courant newspaper while Hines was playing football at Yale University. The Hines campaign says it lacks context and that no such audio or video of Hines has ever been published. A narration over an animated visual of Hines mouthing the words is deceiving, Hines’ campaign says.
A challenge to a Triangle political ad is placing the spotlight on whether emerging technology, even if being used to accurately quote a candidate, is unfit to air.

“The advertisement at issue uses a voice-over actor to recite an out-of-context quote to deceive and defraud voters into believing Mr. Hines made such comment in the context spun by Old North PAC,” the cease-and-desist letter says. “Such false audio is not only defamatory of Mr. Hines, but also defrauds voters from the true record of Mr. Hines.”

Open-source software aimed at detecting so-called deepfakes—synthetic media in which a person in an existing image or video is replaced with someone else's likeness—labeled the video of Hines as “suspicious.”

Amanda Sturgill, an Elon University journalism professor and author of the book "Detecting Deception: Tools to Fight Fake News," said she doesn't believe the visual of Hines speaking is that of a robot, though she still considers it misleading.

"The video deceives by leading the viewer to believe he's mouthing the words, but he really doesn't look like it, if you look closely," Sturgill said in a text message. "He's slowed down a lot in the video to add to the deception."

Old North PAC didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Campaign filings show the group spent more than $600,000 in the last two weeks to bolster the prospects of lawyer Kelly Daughtry, Hines’ top primary opponent.

Hines’ campaign said it didn’t send a cease and desist letter to Old North PAC and is focusing on stations that could remove the ads.

“It’s not uncommon to receive cease and desist letters in the run-up to an election,” Joel Davis, WRAL-TV vice president and general manager, said in a statement. “When we receive one, we ask the advertiser to provide substantiation of the claims made in their ad. We then review all of the information provided and if need be, we’ll pull the ad. In my experience, most ad complaints relate to missing context, but the claims made in the ad are not in and of themselves untrue. As a result, it’s rare that we have to pull an ad due to a cease and desist letter.”

Because the ad is from an outside group, it isn’t controlled by Daughtry. Luke Stancill, a spokesman for Daughtry, declined to comment, noting the ad was not a product of Daughtry’s campaign.

Davis added that he had not seen the letter purportedly sent to WRAL.

The Triangle-area seat includes southern Wake County, all of Johnston County and parts of Wayne and Harnett counties. It could prove to be the most competitive congressional race in the state for the November general election.

Hines is running in a crowded eight-person primary that includes Daughtry, political newcomer Kent Keirsey, former U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, businessman DeVan Barbour, businessman Chad Slotta, physician Jessica Morel and lawyer Kevin Alan Wolff. The top Democratic competitors are state Sen. Wiley Nickel and former state Sen. Sam Searcy.

The First Amendment gives political groups wide latitude to put out ads, even ones with blatant lies, Raleigh attorney Michael Weisel said in an interview last month.
Alex Baiocco, media manager at the Institute for Free Speech, wrote in January that laws regulating or prohibiting deepfakes in political speech could violate the First Amendment. Instead, state defamation laws could better protect someone harmed by potentially manipulated content.

In Hines’ case, the words spoken were presumably accurate and weren’t disputed.

Old North PAC has quickly become the second largest outside spender in the race, behind Club for Growth Action, a Washington, D.C. group that has spent more than $1.6 million to elect Hines.

Hines, who is also backed by former President Donald Trump, has taken exception to any characterizations that he is a liberal. In the 2017 story, Hines described himself as a Republican but not a “social conservative.”

“I'm hoping the Republican Party in the future will not be so bogged down by the 80-year olds sitting in Congress who want to regulate how people live their lives,” he told the Connecticut newspaper.

In a March 24 interview with WRAL News, Hines criticized moderate Republicans and said he wants the country to move further right ideologically. He said he’d pursue a 10-year immigration ban on those seeking to enter the United States if elected and also criticized “biological men [who] compete in female athletics.”

He has also accepted the support of hardline Republican U.S. Rep. Madison Cawthorn. At an April 9 rally, Hines referred to Trump as “the greatest president in the history of the United States.”


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