HD: News You Can Trust…?
One benefit of the Cambridge Analytica/Facebook/Fake News drama that occurred last year – if there is one – is that the bright spotlight of scrutiny revealed not just the prevalence of disinformation and inaccuracy in online content, but also the shocking inability of the general public to use even the most basic information skills to understand the nature of the content they are reading. This opens the door for enterprising technologists: is there an opportunity to use technology to verify the accuracy of content and therefore restore some degree of trust?
Much like a weed in a basic yard, disinformation proliferates quickly and blends in well, making it difficult to discern from its surroundings. As public relations professionals, we have a particular distaste for the issues fake news creates. Can the technology used to create “deepfakes” (digitally altered images and videos) be turned on itself to validate online content for accuracy, exposing deepfakes for what they are? Industry leaders like Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, believe so and see content validation as the next growth industry.
Finding the Fakes
Researchers in multiple verticals, including those working for DARPA, the US defense agency responsible for emerging military technology, take the threat from deepfakes seriously because the effects of disinformation could be disastrous. Possible solutions to identifying fake video and images are emerging that include artificial intelligence (AI) tools to check content for anomalies such as repeated visual elements, video blinking patterns and similar inconsistencies, which can indicate that the images or video has been edited.
That’s all well and good for analyzing visual content, but the approach doesn’t address false headlines, misleading copy and flat-out fake news stories, which spread through social media like a virus in an attempt to influence opinion. Technology has not yet found a way to determine the veracity of non-visual content. Here is where information literacy is critical in the fight against fake information.
Thinking is Critical
I am of the generation that used critical-thinking skills to determine if the news sources I was consuming were accurate and reliable. The only sources to enjoy the benefit of my immediate assumption of accuracy were large, well-known entities such as network news stations or large-circulation newspapers and magazines from reputable publishers. Otherwise, I was responsible for determining the legitimacy of what I was reading, hearing or seeing.
Our information environment is such that it warrants keeping an eye on the evolving content validation industry. And although there is movement toward solutions to identify deepfakes and uncover disinformation, no solution can completely replace the need for human-based critical thinking and analysis.
Before you share another news story or social media post, arm yourself these two resources: the five criteria for evaluating sources and this excellent 10-step tool to identify fake news. As always, if you’d like to discuss deepfakes, the scourge of disinformation or information literacy, I’d love to chat. Just drop me a note at Katie@kgbtexas.com or call me at 210-826-8899.