THE NEXT GENERATION OF FAKE NEWS

Faced with future threats, planners sometimes make the mistake of preparing to fight the last war. How to avoid that problem in meeting the challenge posed by “fake news?” It helps to take a hard look at how these threats are evolving. Three thoughts:


We are all Russians now  Suspected Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election continues to generate headlines, but new evidence suggests the injection of fake news into the US national bloodstream is increasingly a domestic phenomenon.

Before last week’s midterm elections, US political activists on the left and right were aggressively using Facebook and Twitter to spread false information. Both companies say they found and took down hundreds of sites in recent weeks created by Americans, some with hundreds of thousands of followers, which deliberately promoted disinformation.

There’s nothing new about dirty tricks and party propaganda in US elections, and some content creators may be motivated more by profit than a desire to shape public opinion for political gain. But these increasingly sophisticated campaigns of misinformation appear directly inspired by Russian tactics.

Russian interference revealed a set of tools that can be easily used to sway or cast doubt over the outcome of elections. Even as users become more discerning about fake news, more actors will develop the means to deceive.

Supply follows demand –A new study published by BBC World Service finds that in India, distrust of mainstream media is leading people to spread information from alternative online sources without attempting to verify whether the news is true. The study also found that “a rising tide of nationalism in India” is poisoning political debate. “In India facts were less important to some than the emotional desire to bolster national identity,” wrote the study’s authors.

The urge to support favored political figures and parties, to denigrate others, and to promote a particular vision of India and its perceived enemies has led citizens both to supply fake news and to accept it as true without any serious attempt at verification. Of course, this problem has less to with Indian nationalism than with human nature. It’s a growing problem everywhere.

This isn’t simply a story about bad people trying to deceive honest citizens. The human tendency to believe what we want to believe increases the appeal of falsehood and creates demand for more.

Deep Fakes” are becoming more sophisticated – We’ve raised this alarm before and surely will again: Fake video is becoming more sophisticated. In particular, face-mapping technology, designed to improve television language dubbing, is making it easier to create video that appears to show a person saying or doing something they never actually said or did.

Experts in these technologies point out that AI algorithms can quickly identify phonies, and that so-called deep fakes—manipulated video—add only at the margins to an already serious fake news problem. But AI algorithms are useful only for those who want to know the truth, and video fakes can have a more emotional impact than written ones for the same reasons that a single provocative image can be emotionally more powerful than a thousand words.

The takeaway: Combine the increasingly commonplace nature of systematic disinformation, a natural desire to believe in it, and a persuasive manufactured image, and fake news is becoming a more complex and dangerous problem.

Amid the current need to continually focus on the COVID-19 crisis, it is understandably hard to address other important issues. But, on March 31st, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed landmark facial recognition legislation that the state legislature passed on March 12, less than three weeks, but seemingly an era, ago. Nonetheless, it's worth taking a moment to reflect on the importance of this step. This legislation represents a significant breakthrough – the first time a state or nation has passed a new law devoted exclusively to putting guardrails in place for the use of facial recognition technology.

For more on Washington's privacy legislation, visit Microsoft On The Issues.

Over the past decade or so, the European Union has weathered the global financial crisis, a migrant crisis, and the rise of populist nationalism. Sure, it's taken its fair share of bumps and bruises along the way, but the idea of a largely borderless Europe united by common democratic values has survived more or less intact.

Then came the coronavirus. The global pandemic, in which Europe is now one of the two main epicentres, is a still-spiralling nightmare that could make those previous crises look benign by comparison. Here are a few different ways that COVID-19 is severely testing the 27-member bloc:

The economic crisis: Lockdowns intended to stop the virus' spread have brought economic activity to a screeching halt, and national governments are going to need to spend a lot of money to offset the impact. But some EU members can borrow those funds more easily than others. Huge debt loads and deficits in southern European countries like Italy and Spain, which have been hardest hit by the outbreak so far, make it costlier for them to borrow than more fiscally conservative Germany and other northern member states. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis, this imbalance nearly led the bloc's common currency, the Euro, to unravel.

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3.5 billion: There are now an estimated 3.5 billion people worldwide under some sort of coronavirus lockdown after residents in Moscow (12 million) and Nigeria's capital Lagos (21 million) were ordered to join the ranks of those quarantined at home.

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North Korea has zero coronavirus cases? North Korea claims to be one of few countries on earth with no coronavirus cases. But can we take the word of the notoriously opaque leadership at face value? Most long-term observers of Pyongyang dismiss as fanciful the notion that the North, which shares a border with China, its main trade partner, was able to avert the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the globe. Many point to Pyongyang's lack of testing capabilities as the real reason why it hasn't reported any COVID-19 cases. To be sure, Kim Jong-un, the North's totalitarian leader, imposed some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, well before many other countries – closing the Chinese border and quarantining all diplomats. The state's ability to control its people and their movements would also make virus-containment efforts easier to manage. We might not know the truth for some time. But what is clear is that decades of seclusion and crippling economic sanctions have devastated North Korea's health system, raising concerns of its capacity to manage a widespread outbreak of disease.

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As the coronavirus continues to ravage the world, all eyes now turn to the place where it all started. For more than two months, the 11 million residents of Wuhan, the Chinese industrial hub where the novel coronavirus was first detected, have lived under near complete lockdown.

Now, as China reports a dwindling number of new cases, the city's people are slowly emerging back into the daylight. Some travel restrictions remain, but public transportation is largely functioning again, and increasing numbers of people are cautiously – with masks and gloves and digital "health codes" on their phones that permit them to move about – going back to work.

The rest of the world, where most hard-hit countries have imposed various forms of lockdown of their own, is now keenly watching what happens in Wuhan for a glimpse of what might lie in store for the rest of us.

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