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.

Electricity consumption in our homes contributes 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions. What if we could transform this huge contributing factor into a solution? That's what Eni's luminescent solar concentrators can do. These transparent, colored slabs can be inserted into home windows to capture solar energy and generate electricity. By adjusting to the brightness and temperature of your home, they can even save you money on heating and air conditioning costs.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

How did an entire country's media spread false news for a night?

Fascinating case study in France over the weekend. For less than a day, we thought that the most wanted men in the country had been caught in Scotland. Turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. The so-called news was actually reported quite carefully at first, on Friday night with careful words. But the language quickly moved from conditional to categorical and therefore, to misinformation through human error. What you have here is the tension between being first and being right, which has always been present in journalism but is more and more as you have these 24 hour news channels, social media, and the incredible economic pressure on news sites that are advertising based and therefore click based.

More Show less

Donald Trump announced a fresh "phase 1" trade deal with China last week, part of his ongoing bid to reduce the United States' huge trade deficit with China. The US has been buying more from China than China buys from the US for decades, but since coming into office Trump has made reducing that deficit central to his "America First" agenda. It's not easy to do. Consider that in 2018, after two full years of the Trump administration, the trade deficit with China actually swelled to its highest level since the Clinton years. That's because many perfectly healthy economic factors contribute to a trade deficit: stronger economic growth under Trump has meant more demand for foreign goods, so as long as the economy keeps humming along, it will be hard for Trump to reduce the deficit. Likewise, the strong US dollar makes foreign goods cheaper for US consumers to import, while China's own economic slowdown in 2018 decreased Chinese demand for American goods. For a historical perspective on all of this, here's a look at how the US-China trade balance has developed under each US president going back to 1993.

On Friday, we detailed the main arguments for and against President Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a pocket of northern Syria where their presence had protected Washington's Kurdish allies against an attack from Turkey. We then asked Signal readers to let us know what they thought.

More Show less

Dangerous Chaos in Syria – Turkey's military move into northern Syria had two stated goals: to push Kurdish fighters inside Syria further from Turkey's border and to create a "safe zone" inside Syria in which Turkey could place up to two million Syrian refugees currently living in camps inside Turkey. But the Kurds have now allied with Syria's army, which is backed by Russia, and these forces are now moving north into that same territory toward Turkish troops and Arab militias backed by Ankara. Meanwhile, large numbers of ISIS fighters and their families have escaped prisons where Kurds had held them captive. Turkey's President Erdogan vows to press ahead with his operation until "ultimate victory is achieved." Pandora's Box is now wide open.

More Show less