Man Arrested in China for Falsely Reporting Train Crash Using ChatGPT

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Chinese police arrested a man, Hong, on Sunday for potentially being the first to use AI chatbot ChatGPT to allegedly spread misinformation, demonstrating a possible new method for state actors to discredit real news. According to the South China Morning Post, Hong was charged with ” picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a political catch-all offence that can result in a five-to- 10-year jail term.

The articles Hong allegedly created through ChatGPT, which bypassed restrictions on posting the same content to multiple accounts, proposed an untrue story of a train crash that killed nine people on April 25th. These articles generated over 15,000 clicks. Hong reportedly owns his own blogging platforms, registered in Shenzhen, a major big tech hub in China.

In response to the use of AI for the generation of deepfakes, China’s Cyberspace Administration enacted a law in January that restricts news stories created by AI, save for a list of approved outlets. Last month, even greater regulations on AI chatbots such as ChatGPT were announced, seemingly to create a CCP-friendly environment around AI applications.

The case opens up questions about censorship in China, as authorities in 2013 arrested a high school-aged boy for allegedly spreading ‘rumours’ online which questioned the death of a man after he fell off a karaoke club roof, leading to some public protest. OpenAI has also been put on trial recently after its chatbot falsely claimed a local politician had criminal record.

The company ChatGPT is Chinese-based, though users can access it through a VPN. Several Chinese firms, including Baidu, owner of Baijiahao, the blogging platform from which Hong allegedly posted his misinformation articles, are creating their own AI chatbots which comply with the country’s strict censorship policies.

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It is concerning that AI such as ChatGPT is being used to spread information that is false and may be used by state actors to discredit real news. It is important to recognise the potential dangers of such technology, and to make use of extra checks and screenings to separate facts from fiction. It also shows the ever-growing importance of understanding Chinese policies and censorship rules, in order to protect users from potential consequences such as those that Hong is facing.

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