The Fake News Atom Bomb

The Fake News Atom Bomb

In this month's Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, the folks who created the famous "Doomsday Clock" to remind us of the continued risk of nuclear war, cyber expert Herbert Lin makes a startling claim: False information threatens the future of humanity.

In brief, Mr. Lin argues that "corruption of the information system" amplifies the existential threats posed by nuclear weapons and climate change, but he insists that "Cyber-enabled information warfare has also become an existential threat in its own right."

Lin warns of a "global information dystopia, in which the pillars of modern democratic self-government—logic, truth, and reality—are shattered, and anti-Enlightenment values undermine civilization around the world."


What is "corruption of the information system" and "cyber-enabled information warfare?" In the twenty-first century, information flows are the lifeblood of society. But Lin warns that social media are increasingly used to inject false or misleading information into that bloodstream. This new kind of propaganda is in some ways more insidious and harder to detect than traditional propaganda, which is issued via public, and often centralized, media channels.

If large numbers of people regularly consume false information, Lin says, they will lose confidence in the institutions that govern society and the vital information they provide.

What's more, targeted disinformation can make wars more likely; imagine the impact of Facebook and Twitter during the Cuban Missile Crisis. They can also trigger national and international health crises by undermining public confidence in prevention and treatment methods. They can exacerbate the effects of climate change by portraying it as a hoax.

The dark side of information freedom: Not so long ago, we celebrated a new age of global connectivity, fingertip information searches, self-publishing, seemingly infinite sources of information, and the advent of pocket-sized devices with more brainpower than the supercomputers of a generation ago.

But as the report warns, these "increases in the volume and velocity of information have created a louder and more chaotic information environment that stimulates fast, angry, reflexive, intuitive, and visceral thinking, reaction, and action in people and thus displaces more complex, reflective, and rational thought."

We've already seen:

• Ubiquitous use of search engines that return results based mainly on the popularity of the answers rather than their accuracy.

• The "formation of echo chambers and media bubbles that reinforce pre-existing beliefs."

• Large-scale data mining that allows digital-age propagandists to sift vast amounts of personal data to identify and target those most susceptible to specific kinds of "fake news."

• Lightning-fast data transfers, which enable false information to spread more quickly.

• Computer-generated voices and manipulated images that are almost indistinguishable from real ones.

The solution? According to Lin, we need "better ways of identifying adversary cyber-enabled information warfare campaigns in progress; good countermeasures to help human beings resist the use of cyber-enabled information warfare operations targeted against them; and good measures to degrade, disrupt, or expose the adversary's use of cyber-enabled information warfare operations."

The complication: Human beings are not always truth-seekers. As this report acknowledges, all of us are guilty at times of believing what we want to believe, creating demand for false information to meet the supply.

Teaching people to recognize fake news is important. Persuading them that they should try to separate fact from fiction is a different challenge.

Yau Abdul Karim lives and works in Garin Mai Jalah, located in the Yobe State of northeastern Nigeria. Essential to his work raising cattle is reliable access to water, yet environmental degradation has led to fewer water sources, severely impacting communities like his that depend on livestock. In 2019, with the help of FAO, Eni installed a special solar-powered well in Yau's town that provides water during the day as well as light at night.

Watch Yau's story as he shows how his family and community enjoy life-enhancing access to both water and light.

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. And I thought I'd talk a little bit today about the latest in Israel, Palestine. It's obviously been driving headlines all week. And of course, on social media, there's no topic that we all get along and agree with each other more than Israel, Palestine. It's an easy one to take on. Yeah, I know I'm completely full of crap on that. But I thought I would give you some sense of what I think is actually happening where we're going. So first point, massive fight, big conflict between Hamas in Gaza and the Israeli defense forces. Not only that, but also more violence and a lot of violence breaking out between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews. Extremists on both sides taking to the streets and fairly indiscriminate violence, in this case, worst since 2014.

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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's first minister, says another independence referendum for Scotland is now a matter of "when not if," and that after leaving the UK, Scotland will launch a bid to rejoin the EU. But there are formidable obstacles ahead.

Getting to a vote will force a complex game of chicken with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. If a majority of Scots then vote for independence — hardly a sure thing – the process of extricating their new country from the UK will make Brexit look easy. Next, come the challenges of EU accession. In other words, Scotland's journey down the rocky road ahead has only just begun.

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Cyber is a tool, and sometimes a weapon. Whether espionage for commercial gain or indiscriminate attacks on critical infrastructure, actions taken in cyber space affect you directly, potentially upending even the most mundane realities of everyday life.

Join GZERO Media and Microsoft for a live conversation on cyber challenges facing governments, companies, and citizens in a Munich Security Conference "Road to Munich" event on Tuesday, May 18.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

Who is Elise Stefanik and what does she mean for the Republican Party right now?

Elise Stefanik is a young member from Upstate New York. She had originally started her career as a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, but in recent years, has turned into one of the most outspoken defenders of President Donald Trump, particularly during the impeachment trial last year. She's relevant right now because it looks like she'll be replacing Liz Cheney, the Representative from Wyoming and also the daughter of the former Vice President, who has been outspoken in her criticism of President Trump since the January 6th insurrection, and probably more importantly, outspoken in her criticism of the direction of the Republican Party.

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According to Delhi-based journalist Barkha Dutt, while the Indian government has finally started to mobilize in response to the COVID crisis, there's still a lot of denial about the severity of the ourbreak. "Our Health Minister, for instance, made a statement in the last 24 hours saying that India is better equipped to fight COVID in 2021 than in 2020. That's simply rubbish. We had India's Solicitor General telling the Supreme Court that there is no oxygen deficit as of now. That's simply not true." In an interview on GZERO World, Dutt tells Ian Bremmer that only the connection between fellow Indians, helping each other when the government cannot, has been a salve.

Watch the episode: India's COVID calamity

Listen: Ask national security experts how they view China today and they'll likely the use a term like "adversary" or "economic competitor." But what about "enemy?" How close is the world to all-out-war breaking out between United States and China? According to US Admiral James Stavridis (Ret.), who served as Supreme Allied Commander to NATO, those odds are higher than many would like to admit. In fact, Stavridis says, the US risks losing its military dominance in the coming years to China. And if push comes to shove in a military conflict, it's not entirely clear who would prevail. Admiral Stavridis discusses his bestselling new military thriller 2034 and makes the case for why his fictional depiction of a US-China war could easily become reality.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.

Carl Bildt, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Sweden, shares his perspective on Europe In 60 Seconds:

What's the issue with the letter in France talking about the "civil war"?

Well, I think it is part of the beginning of the French election campaign. We have some people in the military encouraged by the more right-wing forces, warning very much for the Muslim question. That's part of the upstart to the election campaign next year. More to come, I fear.

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace. Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT/ 1pm ET

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Beyond SolarWinds: Securing Cyberspace | Watch on Tuesday, May 18, 2021 10am PT / 1 pm PT

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal