Perspective: Truth decayHow Fake News Could Lead to Real War

Published 8 July 2019

Who really bombed the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf two weeks ago? Was it Iran, as the Trump administration assured us? Or was it Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates or Israel—or some combination of the three? Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon write in Politico that they believe in the official U.S. position, that Iran was behind the attacks, trying to prod other countries to pressure the U.S. to relax its sanctions makes sense. But the whole unsettling episode opened our eyes to a deeply troubling reality: The current fake news epidemic isn’t just shaking up U.S. politics; it might end up causing a war, or just as consequentially, impeding a national response to a genuine threat. Thus far, public discussion of deep fakes—and fake news more broadly—has focused on domestic politics and particularly elections. That was inevitable after the Russian interference on President Donald Trump’s behalf in 2016—the dimensions of which were laid out in the unprecedented joint assessment of the National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation in February 2017 and the Mueller Report.
But fake news’ implications for foreign and security policy may be as far-reaching—and even more dangerous. Misinformation in geopolitics could lead not only to the continued weakening of our institutions but also to combat deaths. Sure, fake news has been a feature of international relations for a long time, but it’s different now: “Advancing technology that can fabricate convincing images and videos combined with the chronic, exuberant dishonesty of the commander-in-chief and his minions has meant that no one can feel confident in assessing life or death choices in foreign policy crisis. For a democracy—one with global interests—this is a disaster,” Benjamin and Simon write.