'It's an arms race': Technology amplifies fake news, but could it also hold the solution?

Anna Maria Tremonti speaks with a journalist and a technologist about how technology is being deployed to undermine truth in the modern world, and whether technology could also be used to fight back.

Fake news is 'as old as time,' says journalist Sarah Kendzior

It can be very difficult for average people to distinguish fake news from real news outlets, said journalist Sarah Kendzior. (Flatiron Books)
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If we were truly living in a post-truth era, certain groups wouldn't be "working so hard to try to suppress the truth," argues journalist Sarah Kendzior.

"You certainly see them doing that in terms of investigations into Trump's finances, the finances of his colleagues, the Mueller probe, the Russian investigation and all sorts of other illicit actions in which he's been engaged," said Kendzior, co-host of the podcast Gaslit Nation.

The Oxford English Dictionary picked the term "post-truth" to be their word of the year in 2016, the same year that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. In 2018, Dictionary.com's word of the year is "misinformation," in an acknowledgement of the way false information spreads quickly online.

Kendzior, an expert on totalitarian movements and author of The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America, spoke to The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti, as part of a special edition on truth.

She argued that fake news is "as old as time." The difference is that in the past there was a "more rigourous system of checking and making sure that it is not counted as truth."

Digital media has revolutionized how information can be disseminated, and who can do it, she told Tremonti.

"We have fake news outlets that exist, that are very difficult for average people to distinguish from real news outlets."

'As technology gets used for deception, it'll also be used for detection,' says Jeff Hancock, a Canadian technologist. (CBC)

Readers also have to contend with propaganda operations, bots, impersonation and anonymity, she said, adding that both citizens and world leaders are having trouble confronting these problems, "in part because technology has changed so fast."

Technology may be posing these problems, but a Canadian expert in deception and technology argues it could also provide the solutions.

"It's an arms race almost all the time with this kind of thing," said Jeff Hancock, a founding director of the Stanford Social Media Lab and a professor in the department of communication at Stanford University.

"There will be development of technologies for doing deep fakes, and at the same time there'll be technologies that can detect them," said Hancock.

"As technology gets used for deception, it'll also be used for detection."

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.


Produced by Howard Goldenthal and Peter Mitton.

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