There is no evidence that an audio clip which has gone viral on X (formerly Twitter), allegedly of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer swearing at a member of his staff, is genuine.
The clip, which has over 1.5 million views at the time of writing and has also been shared on Facebook, was posted as the Labour party conference got underway in Liverpool on Sunday.
Definitively proving that a non-specific and unattributed audio clip has been faked is difficult. The emergence of this clip has exposed the increased challenges of verification posed by new technology and the challenge of ensuring an effective and proportionate response by social media platforms on such content.
We’ve not been able to determine whether the clip was generated with artificial intelligence, edited in some other way or is of an impersonator, but we’ve not seen any evidence to suggest it is real.
There are no specific clues in the clip itself, such as identifiable background noise or names used, which would enable it to be verified. Sources within the Labour party have said the clip is fake, as have the security minister Tom Tugendhat and Simon Clarke MP, both Conservatives.
Mr Tugendhat and Mr Clarke suggested the clip is an audio version of a deepfake and referred to ongoing work to deal with the challenges of artificial intelligence. When we asked Mr Tugendhat what that assessment was based on however, we did not receive a response.
The X account which claimed to have received the audio clip and said it was of Mr Starmer “verbally abusing his staffers at conference” currently operates under the name “El Borto”, and has previously published other unevidenced claims about Mr Starmer. It is not clear who runs the account, which was set up in January 2023 and now has around 3,600 followers. We’ve attempted to contact the owner of the account but haven’t received a response.
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On 21 August, while operating under the name “UK Politics”, the account in question claimed to have conducted an interview with Mr Starmer. The account said: “NEW: Labour Leader Keir Starmer has said he would be supportive of the death penalty “for the most heinous of crimes”.”
We’ve not seen any evidence to support such a claim, or evidence Mr Starmer did such an interview. In fact, Mr Starmer has repeatedly made clear his opposition to capital punishment and won an award for his work on death penalty cases.
Asked to provide the source by other X users, the account holder replied: “We are the source. He was speaking to us.” The account holder then claimed to have footage of Mr Starmer speaking those words but said they were unable to upload it as: “I don’t have permission to post the video. I could get sued.”
The following day the account uploaded what appeared to be a photo of a television tuned to an item on the BBC News channel with the caption: “Keir Starmer death penalty comments”. Replying to other users, the X account owner seemed to imply that the quotes they had published the previous day were now being reported by the broadcaster.
We’ve not seen any evidence that this is an image of a real BBC News report. We’ve not found any mention of this report elsewhere online, and close scrutiny of the image appears to show inconsistencies with the text in the caption, which suggest it may have been digitally altered. In addition, when Full Fact checked what was being reported on BBC News at 1.28pm on 22 August—the time stamp featured in the photo—there was no mention of Mr Starmer and the presenters were instead discussing the growing popularity of chess.
‘Difficult to confirm deepfakes with total certainty’
We’ve seen analysis of the audio clip from a number of different audio experts, but without any definite overall conclusion.
Mike Russell, founder of the audio production firm Music Radio Creative and a certified audio professional with more than 25 years of experience, conducted extensive analysis for a podcast, which at the time of writing has yet to be published. He told Full Fact it was "impossible to confirm 100%" whether or not the clip was a deepfake.
"Unfortunately there is no definitive yes/no,” he said. ”It remains very difficult to confirm deepfakes with total certainty… we're rapidly approaching a point where audio can no longer be trusted as factual evidence with the rise of AI synthesis.”
Although his analysis failed to find any AI "glitches" and some tests suggested the audio was real, Mr Russell was also able to use AI voice cloning tools to recreate extremely realistic fake samples of Sir Keir's voice.
A recent study by researchers from University College London found that the technology required to produce fake audio clips is now widely accessible and easy to use. “While early deepfake speech algorithms may have required thousands of samples of a person’s voice to be able to generate original audio, the latest pre-trained algorithms can recreate a person’s voice using just a three-second clip of them speaking,” it said.
“Open-source algorithms are freely available and while some expertise would be beneficial, it would be feasible for an individual to train them within a few days.”
The same study included an experiment which found that humans are only able to detect altered audio 73% of the time.
Concerns about the potential for manipulated audio to generate misinformation was highlighted recently when, shortly before elections in Slovakia, an audio recording was posted to Facebook allegedly featuring the head of a political party and prominent journalist discussing how to rig the vote.
Both men denied any such conversation had ever taken place and fact checkers from AFP said the audio showed signs of having been manipulated using AI.