Is This the First AI Hate Hoax? White Principal Accused of Racism Based on Fake Audio

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A pretty dramatic story out of Baltimore today which reveals what may be the first hate hoax perpetrated with the help of artificial intelligence. The principal of Pikesville High School, Eric Eiswert, was accused in January of making blatantly racist comments behind closed doors after an inflammatory audio file was posted on a popular Instagram account.

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In the recording, the person speaking refers to “ungrateful Black kids who can’t test their way out of a paper bag.”

The speaker goes on to question how hard it is to get those students to meet grade-level expectations. He uses names of people who appear to be staff members and says they should not have been hired. The speaker sayshe should get rid of another person “one way or another.”

“And if I have to get one more complaint from one more Jew in this community, I’m going to join the other side,” the voice in the recording stated.

The Superintendent denounced the comments and launched an investigation. For his part, Eiswert denied having ever made the comments and a union leader immediately suggested the "recording" had actually been produced by AI. The president of the local NAACP also condemned the statements saying she was "disappointed but not surprised." Other voices were quick to condemn Eiswert including Deray McKesson.

Eiswert was apparently removed from his school and reports suggested he received threats and had police guarding his home.

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But last month the Baltimore Banner revealed that experts had concluded the "recording" was AI generated:

Siwei Lyu, director of a media forensics lab at the University at Buffalo, said the audio is not particularly sophisticated. Lyu has developed technologies at the State University of New York for spotting audio and images created using artificial intelligence.

This audio is “not a challenging case for the algorithms. I believe someone just made this using an AI voice generator,” Lyu said, adding that he doesn’t believe the person who made it put a lot of effort into the task. Online voice generator tools, like one from Eleven Labs, are available to anyone and advertise their ability to instantly create audio that’s indistinguishable from human speech.

There is, however, clear evidence the audio was manipulated, Lyu said.

Today we got further confirmation of that as police arrested the man they say created that audio in an effort to get back at Eiswert for an earlier investigation.

Baltimore County Police arrested Pikesville High School’s former athletic director Thursday morning and charged him with using artificial intelligence to impersonate Principal Eric Eiswert, leading the public to believe Eiswert made racist and antisemitic comments behind closed doors...

Police say [Dazhon] Darien made the recording in retaliation after Eiswert initiated an investigation into improper payments he made to a school athletics coach who was also his roommate, and Darien is also charged with theft and retaliating against a witness...

Police wrote in charging documents that Darien had accessed the school’s network on multiple occasions in December and January searching for OpenAI tools, and used “Large Language Models” that practice “deep learning, which involves pulling in vast amounts of data from various sources on the internet, can recognize text inputted by the user, and produce conversational results.” They also connected Darien to an email account that had distributed the recording...

Darien was being investigated as of December in a theft investigation that had been initiated by Eiswert. Police say Darien had authorized a $1,916 payment to the school’s junior varsity basketball coach, who was also his roommate, under the pretense that he was an assistant girls soccer coach. He was not, school officials said. Eiswert determined that Darien had submitted the payment to the school payroll system, bypassing proper procedures. Darien had been notified of the investigation, police said.

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Police spoke to two other AI experts who also confirmed the audio was faked. They then connected the email account that sent the file back to Darien. So, bottom line, the person police say was behind those ugly racist comments was this guy:

The audio was sent to three teachers at the school the night before it went viral. One of those teachers forwarded it to a student who they knew would help circulate it throughout the school. Both Darien and the teacher who spread the file have reportedly resigned.

Darien (allegedly) stirred up a lot of fear and mistrust in his community. Like Jussie Smollett, he'll probably get a minor slap on the wrist. I don't know what he's facing exactly but I hope if he's convicted he gets the maximum possible sentence.

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Ed Morrissey 11:27 PM | July 13, 2024
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