• Perspective: Truth decayHow Fact-Checking Can Win the Fight Against Misinformation

    According to fact-checkers at the Washington Post, President Donald Trump has made more than 13,000 false or misleading claims since his inauguration. It is no wonder some people doubt that the fact-checking of politicians’ claims is an answer to the problems of this misinformation age. Peter Cunliffe-Jones , Laura Zommer, Noko Makgato, and Will Moy write that “As the leaders or founders of fact-checking organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Europe, we know that our work can play a powerful role in countering the effects of misinformation and restoring faith in reliable sources.” They add: “While we shouldn’t underestimate the scale of the threat posed by misinformation and declining trust, or the complexity of their causes, the problem is not nearly as intractable as some seem to believe. By addressing not only the symptoms of misinformation and mistrust, but also the systemic problems that underlie them, fact-checking organizations, media, government, and business can resist these worrisome trends.”

  • Perspective: ExtremismIf Germany Can’t Stop the Rise of White Nationalism, How Can Canada?

    Between 2017 and 2018, anti-Semitic and xenophobic crimes both rose nearly 20 percent in Germany. In June, following the assassination by a neo-Nazi of Walter Lübcke, a conservative politician who supported Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies, the BfV, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency, busted Nordkreuz, an extremist organization which compiled a kill list of 25,000 liberal politicians considered “pro-refugee” while also acquiring weapons, 200 body bags, and quicklime, which prevents the rotting that makes corpses smell. The BfV says that it is now tracking 24,100 known right-wing extremists in the country, of which 12,700 have been classified as violent. “That these developments are happening in Germany, a country known for an unflinching view of its own horrific past, might be considered surprising,” Sadiya Ansari writes. “And if Germany is struggling to contain this [extremists’] threat, what does that mean for countries that haven’t been as vigilant?”

  • China syndromeChina’s Global Reach: Surveillance and Censorship Beyond the Great Firewall

    By Danny O'Brien

    Those outside the People’s Republic of China (PRC) are accustomed to thinking of the Internet censorship practices of the Chinese state as primarily domestic, enacted through the so-called “Great Firewall”—a system of surveillance and blocking technology that prevents Chinese citizens from viewing websites outside the country. But the ongoing Hong Kong protests, and mainland China’s pervasive attempts to disrupt and discredit the movement globally, have highlighted that China is not above trying to extend its reach beyond the Great Firewall, and beyond its own borders. In attempting to silence protests that lie outside the Firewall, in full view of the rest of the world, China is showing its hand, and revealing the tools it can use to silence dissent or criticism worldwide.

  • RadicalizationFrom Hateful Words to Real Violence

    The Gilroy Garlic Festival. The Poway Chabad synagogue. The Charleston Emanuel church. The El Paso Walmart. One common denominator in these mass shootings and countless others? A perpetrator whose interactions in online white supremacist networks played a part in inciting, energizing, and detonating racial hatred into real violence, says UNLV sociologist Simon Gottschalk. Gottschalk has studied how interacting in online white supremacist networks can convert hateful words into real violence.

  • Truth decayHow Partisan Hostility Leads People to Believe Falsehoods

    Researchers now have a better idea of why people who rely on partisan news outlets are more likely to believe falsehoods about political opponents. And no, it isn’t because these consumers live in media “bubbles” where they aren’t exposed to the truth. Instead, it has to do with how partisan media promote hostility against their rivals.

  • PerspectiveIn the Deepfake Era, Counterterrorism Is Harder

    For many U.S. intelligence officials, memories of that 9/11 terrorist attacks remain fresh, searing, and personal. Still hanging over the entrance to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center is a sign that reads, “Today is September 12, 2001.” It’s a daily reminder of the agency’s determination to prevent future attacks—but also of the horrifying costs when intelligence agencies adapt too slowly to emerging threats. For a decade after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the CIA and the FBI were mired in Cold War structures, priorities, processes, and cultures even as the danger of terrorism grew. The shock of 9/11 finally forced a reckoning—one that led to a string of counterterrorism successes, from foiled plots to the operation against Osama bin Laden. But now, nearly two decades later, America’s 17 intelligence agencies need to reinvent themselves once more, this time in response to an unprecedented number of breakthrough technologies that are transforming societies, politics, commerce, and the very nature of international conflict.

  • PerspectiveNew Tech Aims to Help Societies Learn to Spot Fake News

    Despite its relatively recent entrance into common parlance, “fake news” punctuated some of the most important elections of recent years, including 2016’s BREXIT referendum and U.S. presidential campaign. Thanks to social media, fake news can now be disseminated at breakneck pace to vast audiences that are often unable or unwilling to separate fact from fiction. Studies suggest that fake news spreads up to six times faster on social media than genuine stories, while false news stories are 70 percent more likely to be shared on Twitter. Preslav Nakov writes that all is not lost, though: “Fortunately, an emerging set of technologies are increasingly capable of identifying fake news for what it actually is, thereby laying the foundations for communities to do the same. The challenge is to ensure that these platforms get to where they are needed most.”

  • PerspectiveDisinformation and Terrorism

    Most of the discussions that take place around the concept of disinformation–false information spread deliberately to deceive–typically focus on the role of nation-states like Russia and China. But violent non-state actors, including terrorist groups, rely on disinformation as well, and some groups have developed fairly sophisticated disinformation capabilities. The objectives of these non-state actors can vary but are almost always some combination of spreading fear and terror, recruiting new followers to the cause, radicalizing individuals, and confusing and distracting public safety officials in order to sap finite resources.

  • Perspective: The Russia connectionRussia's Disinformation War Is Just Getting Started

    The disinformation wars are only just getting started, warns a new report on Russian social media interference released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Published last week, the report offers the most comprehensive look at the efforts of the Russian propaganda factory known as the Internet Research Agency to divide Americans, undermine public faith in the democratic process, and aggressively support Donald Trump before and after the 2016 election. Paris Martineau writes in Wired that in addition to affirming much of what had been reported about Russian online interference over the past three years—including in Robert Mueller’s sweeping indictment of the IRA in February 2018—the report offers a comprehensive look at the extent of past foreign influence operations and recommendations on how best to prepare for those yet to come. It’s the second volume to come out of the Senate Intel Committee, though this one is “much more detailed in its analysis, meticulously cited, and concerned with influence and impact,” says one expert. “The conclusions in the second volume are notably bolder and unequivocal in supporting academic research and the advisory groups’ findings. It reads like a different report altogether.”

  • Perspective: ExtremismRacists Are Recruiting. Watch Your White Sons.

    Raising teenagers can be terrifying. Squishy little babies become awkward hormonal creatures who question their parents’ authority at every turn. Joanna Schroeder writes that she expected that. “What I didn’t predict was that my sons’ adolescence would include being drawn to the kind of online content that right-wing extremists use to recruit so many young men,” she writes. “Unfortunately, extremists know how to find new recruits in the very place our sons spend so much of their time: online. And too often, they’re more aware than we are of how vulnerable young white men are to radicalization.”

  • The Russia connectionSenate Intel Committee: Russia Used Social Media to support Donald Trump “at the direction of the Kremlin”

    On Tuesday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a new report, titled Russia’s Use of Social Media. It is the second volume released in the Committee’s bipartisan investigation into Russia’s attempts to interfere with the 2016 U.S. election. The new report examines Russia’s efforts to use social media to sow societal discord and influence the outcome of the 2016 election, led by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency (IRA). The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.  The Committee found that IRA social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump to the detriment of Secretary Clinton’s campaign. 

  • ExtremismIndependent Adviser Calls for Overhaul of U.K. Counter-Extremism Strategy

    The U.K. government’s independent advisor on extremism is calling for a complete overhaul of the government’s strategy – recommending a new taskforce led by the Home Secretary. The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism on Monday, 7 October, published its findings and recommendations in a new report, Challenging Hateful Extremism.

  • ExtremismIndependent Adviser Calls for Overhaul of U.K. Counter-Extremism Strategy

    The U.K. government’s independent advisor on extremism is calling for a complete overhaul of the government’s strategy – recommending a new taskforce led by the Home Secretary. The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism on Monday, 7 October, published its findings and recommendations in a new report, Challenging Hateful Extremism.

  • Perspective: Lethal speechFree Speech Is Killing Us

    There has never been a bright line between word and deed. Yet, for years, the founders of Facebook and Twitter and 4chan and Reddit tried to pretend that the noxious speech prevalent on those platforms wouldn’t metastasize into physical violence. Andrew Marantz writes in the New York Times that in the early years of this decade, back when people associated social media with Barack Obama or the Arab Spring, Twitter executives referred to their company as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party.” “No one believes that anymore,” Marantz writes. Marantz says that after spending the past few years embedded as a reporter with the trolls and bigots and propagandists who are experts at converting fanatical memes into national policy, “I no longer have any doubt that the brutality that germinates on the internet can leap into the world of flesh and blood.” He adds: “The question is where this leaves us. Noxious speech is causing tangible harm. Yet this fact implies a question so uncomfortable that many of us go to great lengths to avoid asking it. Namely, what should we — the government, private companies or individual citizens — be doing about it?”

  • Perspective: ExtremismU.K. Government Drive to Tackle Extremism Is “Inadequate”

    The drive to tackle extremism in the United Kingdom is failing because the government’s response is “inadequate” and “unfocused,” according to an official report published Monday. Extremist activity is contributing to a climate of censorship and fear, limiting expression, religion and belief while those countering it receive little support. The report warns that hateful, hostile and supremacist beliefs are increasingly visible in the U.K. today. “The Far Right’s narratives of a racial or cultural threat to “natives” from “aliens” have been making their way into the mainstream. “As are Islamists’ ideas for defending a single politicized and communal Muslim identity against the West’s corrupting influence. And the Far Left’s conflation of anti-imperialist and antisemitism”, it said.