Updated May 31st, 2024 at 22:14 IST

What is Zero Zeno? The Covert Operation To Influence Indian Elections

The people behind Zero Zeno used AI models to generate articles and comments that were then posted across multiple platforms, notably Instagram, Facebook and X.

Reported by: Kriti Dhingra
What is Zero Zeno? The Covert Operation To Influence Indian Elections | Image:Pexels
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New Delhi: In an explosive revelation just a day ahead of the last phase of polling for the ongoing Lok Sabha Elections in the country, OpenAI, the creators of ChatGPT, on Friday claimed it acted within 24 hours to disrupt deceptive uses of Artificial Intelligence in covert operations focused on the Indian elections.

In a report on its website, OpenAI said STOIC, a political campaign management firm in Israel, generated some content on Indian elections alongside other issues including the Gaza conflict.

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"In May, the network began generating comments that focused on India, criticized the ruling BJP party and praised the opposition Congress party," OpenAI said, adding that it banned a cluster of accounts operated from Israel that were being used to generate and edit content for an influence operation.

Describing its modus operandi, OpenAI further stated that the operation was nicknamed Zero Zeno “in honor of the founder of the stoic school of philosophy”.

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What is Zero Zeno? The Covert Operation To Influence Indian Elections

  • According to an OpenAI report released for the month of May, the people behind Zero Zeno used AI models to generate articles and comments that were then posted across multiple platforms, notably Instagram, Facebook, X, and websites associated with this operation.
  • The content posted by these various operations focused on a wide range of issues, including Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the conflict in Gaza, the Indian elections, politics in Europe and the United States, and criticisms of the Chinese government by Chinese dissidents and foreign governments.
  • For example, Zero Zeno posted short texts – generated using their models – on specific themes, especially the Gaza conflict, on Instagram and X. A further set of accounts on those platforms would then reply with comments that were also generated by this operation. 
  • This operation targeted audiences in Canada, the United States and Israel with content in English and Hebrew. In early May, it began targeting audiences in India with English-language content. 
  • It also appeared to have been preparing to run a IO campaign targeting audiences in Ghana. The operation used models to generate web articles and social media comments that were then posted across multiple platforms, notably Instagram, Facebook, and X.
  • The operation also used OpenAI models to create fictional personas and bios for social media based on certain variables such as age, gender and location, and to conduct research into people in Israel who commented publicly on the Histadrut trade union in Israel.  
  • Content generated by this network was subsequently posted across multiple social media platforms.
  • Open-source research by the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab identified some of its content on Facebook, Instagram and X; when those accounts were disabled, the operation acquired new ones.
  • Other content appeared on four websites that posed as activist groups focused on the Gaza conflict and broader issues of relations between individuals of Jewish and Muslim faith: uc4canada[.]com, the-good-samaritan[.]com, ufnews[.]io and nonagenda[.]com.
  • In some cases, the US-based AI organisation identified this operation’s fake accounts commenting on social-media posts made by the operation itself, likely in an attempt to create the impression of audience engagement.
  • Many of the social-media accounts that posted this network’s content used profile pictures that appear to have been created using an earlier type of artificial intelligence: generative adversarial networks (GAN). Such images can be readily downloaded from the internet. 
  • Multiple social media accounts were identified in this network using the same picture. Sometimes, two or more accounts with the same profile picture would reply to the same social media post.


Commenting on the report, Minister of Sate for Electronics & Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar said, "It is absolutely clear and obvious that the BJP was and is the target of influence operations, misinformation and foreign interference, being done by and/or on behalf of some Indian political parties.

"This is very dangerous threat to our democracy. It is clear vested interests in India and outside are clearly driving this and needs to be deeply scrutinized/investigated and exposed. My view at this point is that these platforms could have released this much earlier, and not so late when elections are ending," he added.

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OpenAI, meanwhile, has said it is committed to developing safe and broadly beneficial AI. "Our investigations into suspected covert influence operations (IO) are part of a broader strategy to meet our goal of safe AI deployment." 

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Published May 31st, 2024 at 22:14 IST