Terrorism, Extremism, Disinformation and Artificial Intelligence: A Primer for Policy Practitioners

Authors: Milan Gandhi

Published: 22 January 2024

Focussing on current and emerging issues, this policy briefing paper surveys the ways in which technologies under the umbrella of artificial intelligence (AI) may interact with democracy and— specifically— extremism, mis- and disinformation, and illegal and ‘legal but harmful’ content online. The paper considers examples of how AI technologies can be used to mislead and harm citizens and how AI technologies can be used to detect and counter the same or associated harms, exploring risks to democracy and human rights emerging across the spectrum. It begins by providing a brief primer on AI and outlining general concerns relating to accountability — the “cornerstone” of AI governance — data collection and quality, and the opacity of AI models. Special consideration is given to generative AI systems, such as chat bots powered by large language models (LLMs), due to their recent popularisation and wide-ranging capabilities. It then provides an overview of different types of AI systems, including those that generate content, disseminate and target content, select and amplify content within online information environments, assist in the mitigation of online harms, or present a risk to public safety. It also examines potential mitigations to the identified risks, focusing on ethical principles, public policy and emerging AI regulation. Given the immense scope and potential impacts of AI on different facets of democracy and human rights, this briefing does not consider every relevant or potential AI use case, nor the long-term horizon. It is intended to empower policymakers, especially those working on mis- and disinformation, hate, extremism and terrorism specifically, as well as security, democracy and human rights more broadly.

Milan Gandhi is a Research Fellow at ISD and supports Dr Aaron Maniam to convene the technology policy cluster at the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government (BSG). He is currently completing the MSc in Public Policy Research at BSG while conducting policy-relevant research and analysis on issues connecting digital technologies, democracy and geopolitics. Milan holds a Master of Public Policy with Distinction from the University of Oxford and a Bachelor of Laws (1st Class) from the University of Queensland. He is supported by a 2022 John Monash Scholarship and a 2023 BSG Scholarship.