Coming Up: A "Weather Report" To Warn About Fake News

In the era of fake news; could an online weather report be a solution? This is one of Nicholas Diakopoulos' predictions for journalism in 2018.

Lightning storm

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“Artificial neural networks are advancing rapidly in their ability to synthesize content — including images, videos, and texts — that are increasingly indistinguishable from authentic content," Diakopoulos writes.

Each year, Nieman Lab asks some of the smartest people in journalism and digital media what they think is coming in the next 12 months. ViSmedia researcher Nicholas Diakopoulos, assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University, is one of these people.

2017: A Tough Year for Social Media

Diakopolous claims that last year was a tough one for social media, one where, "[c]ollective euphoria turned to harsh reality for social media".

"Propaganda campaigns came to light. Bot armies continued to bully, intimidate, and harass. Warehouses of trolls pushed political agendas. Public-comment processes were polluted", he writes.

However, there could be a solution in the era of fake news: An “online weather report” that "would show which ways the bot and troll winds were blowing and which topics or issues were being manipulated that day".

The report would let you know when there's a layer of clouds covering the truth, or when a lightening of lies is destined to strike.

Threatening Democracy

So; synthesizing content becomes more available. This leads Diakopoulos to ask the question: "How will we have the debates, dialogues, and dialectic we need to run a democracy?"

See for yourself: Can you tell that the people portrayed in this video never even existed?

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Maintaining Authenticity

Diakopoulos argues that we all need to help securing the authenticity of online media. Platforms should be as transparent as possible."[P]latforms will need to step up their internal protocols for both purging inauthentic accounts as well as identifying influence campaigns", he writes.

He also points to the role of journalists and other actors in civil society, if they get access to enough data from platforms. "The platforms should enable this access, recognizing that observation by trusted parties will help identify how the system is being manipulated. Scale means that journalists also need powerful computational tools that can trace information flows. And the development of technically robust and adaptable media forensics tools will be essential so journalists can assess the authenticity of potentially synthesized media", Diacopoulos writes.

Appropriate data and tooling in the hands of computational journalists would enable the creation of a new beat covering social influence campaigns. So he proposes the weather report solution: 

"By grappling with vast amounts of data using computational tools journalists could produce these reports (or even forecasts) that illuminate the flows of information online, fortifying the public against disingenuous and subversive media", Diakopoulos writes.