Fake News: More Spam Than Cyber?

Fake news is a problem, everybody knows that. When technology helps bad actors spread lies and sow discord, it’s bad for democracy, which relies on citizens making considered judgments at the polls. It’s also a boon to authoritarians, who can stamp out criticism and bury unfavorable news by creating confusion about what’s true and what’s false.


The more interesting question is, what kind of problem is it?

Is fake news like cybersecurity – getting worse with time as attackers gain access to new tools and adopt new strategies? Or is it more like spam – a technology problem that once seemed overwhelming but has slowly been brought to heel as companies have invested more time and money in fighting it?

The answer will have big implications for the way the media are regulated in the future: if fake news is an intractable arms race, governments will be more tempted to mimic China’s model of erecting firewalls and censoring websites to stop the spread of potentially destabilizing information. If fake news is a solvable problem, or at least a manageable one, like spam, the future of online speech will be a lot more free.

Two recent data points offer some hope. Last week, we wrote about big social media companies’ decisions to ban the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, the latest sign that the big websites where fake news often spreads are becoming more engaged with the problem. Less well publicized was the fact that DARPA, the Pentagon’s research and development arm, has been making progress in developing tools that can detect so-called “deepfakes,” the ultra-realistic fake audio and video created using artificial intelligence that some people worry could unleash a torrent of politically-motivated fakery.

Part of the problem with fake news is that people tend to believe what they want to believe – technology won’t solve that. But with industry and government both now paying closer attention, maybe, just maybe, technology can make the problem more manageable.

In 2012, the United States created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program to protect these young people from being deported. Yet just five years later, the program was rescinded, putting close to 700,000 DACA recipients at risk of being banished from the only home they've ever known. More than five dozen of these DACA recipients at risk are Microsoft employees. These young people contribute to the company and serve its customers. They help create products, secure services, and manage finances. And like so many young people across our nation, they dream of making an honest living and a real difference in the communities in which they reside. Yet they now live in uncertainty.

Microsoft has told its Dreamers that it will stand up for them along with all the nation's DACA recipients. It will represent them in court and litigate on their behalf. That's why Microsoft joined Princeton University and Princeton student Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez to file one of the three cases challenging the DACA rescission that was heard on Nov. 12 by the United States Supreme Court.

Read more on Microsoft On The Issues.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron said that NATO was experiencing "brain death," citing a lack of coordination and America's fickleness under Donald Trump as reasons to doubt the alliance's commitment to mutual defense. NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – was formed in the wake of World War II as a counterweight against Soviet dominance in Europe and beyond. Its cornerstone is that an attack on one member is considered an attack on all. But disagreement about burden sharing has gained increasing salience in recent years. In 2014, the bloc agreed that each member state would increase their own defense spending to 2% of their respective GDP over the next decade. But so far, only seven of 29 members have forked out the money. Here's a look at who pays what.

In the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, Israel launched a precision attack in the Gaza Strip, targeting and killing a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) commander. In response, the terror group fired more than 200 rockets at southern Israel. Exchanges of fire have brought cities on both sides of the Gaza border to a standstill and at least eight Palestinians are dead and dozens of Israelis wounded. With this latest escalation, Israel now faces national security crises on multiple fronts. Here's what's going on:

More Show less

More Brexit shenanigans: Britons this week saw Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson endorse Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in upcoming elections. As a special bonus, they got to see Corbyn return the favo(u)r with a formal endorsement of Johnson. Most viewers in the UK will have understood immediately that these are the latest example of "deep fakes," digitally manipulated video images. The more important Brexit story this week is a pledge by Nigel Farage that his Brexit Party will not run candidates in areas held by the Conservatives in upcoming national elections. That's a boost for Johnson, because it frees his party from having to compete for support from pro-Brexit voters in those constituencies.

More Show less

80: More than 80 percent of the electronic voting systems currently used in the US are made by just three companies, according to a new report which warns that they are regulated less effectively than "colored pencils."

More Show less