NATO ON FAKE NEWS AND POST-TRUTH

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics -

A re­port by the NATO Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Cen­ter of Ex­cel­lence high­lights the grow­ing use of “fake news” in the era of “post-truth” pol­i­tics.

Fake news has be­come a ral­ly­ing cry of both the po­lit­i­cal left and right. The phrase rose to promi­nence as a fa­vorite ep­i­thet of Pres­i­dent Trump in his fre­quent de­nun­ci­a­tions of false and mis­lead­ing news sto­ries on CNN and in The New York Times about him and his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Fake news is de­fined in the re­port as “the dis­sem­i­na­tion of false in­for­ma­tion via me­dia chan­nels (print, broad­cast, on­line). This can be de­lib­er­ate (dis­in­for­ma­tion), but can also be the re­sult of an hon­est mis­take or neg­li­gence (mis­in­for­ma­tion).”

The 129-page study, pro­duced to­gether with the King’s Cen­ter for Strate­gic Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in Lon­don, de­fines the post-truth world as one where facts do not mat­ter if they do not sup­port some­one’s opin­ions or ideas. The re­port warns that the com­bi­na­tion of fake news and post-truth pol­i­tics in public de­bate will un­der­cut the in­flu­ence of facts in de­ter­min­ing na­tional poli­cies.

“What is at stake is the risk that only a lim­ited set of in­for­ma­tion and ev­i­dence is con­sid­ered in po­lit­i­cal dis­course and pol­icy de­vel­op­ment,” the re­port says.

The re­port ar­gues that the mas­sive pro­lif­er­a­tion of in­for­ma­tion and news out­lets has made it much eas­ier to lie through spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion as false news.

“Echo cham­bers and fil­ter bub­bles now dom­i­nate our so­cial me­dia news­feeds through the use of so­phis­ti­cated al­go­rithms,” the re­port said. “The de­struc­tive ef­fects of these fil­ter bub­bles can be seen in the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of the U.S. [pres­i­den­tial elec­tion] and the U.K. [Brexit vote] in 2016, while sim­i­lar events can be seen to have oc­curred in Ukraine, North Korea, Rus­sia, Venezuela and be­yond.”

Rus­sia re­mains a leader in in­for­ma­tion war­fare and the use of fake news. “Rus­sia’s goal, as seen from the West, is to de­prive au­di­ences of the abil­ity to dis­tin­guish be­tween truth and lies by cre­at­ing as many com­pet­ing nar­ra­tives as pos­si­ble in the global me­dia space,” the re­port said.

The af­ter­math of the 2016 hack-and-re­lease in­flu­ence op­er­a­tion showed Moscow’s use of troll farms, state-con­trolled me­dia like Sput­nik and RT and GRU in­tel­li­gence to steal doc­u­ments and pub­li­cize them.

The Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group “in­stru­men­tal­izes the truth to suit its strate­gic ob­jec­tives,” the re­port’s au­thors say, while North Korea is us­ing its nu­clear pro­gram along with its xeno­pho­bic na­tion­al­ist pro­pa­ganda to de­mo­nize and co­erce the United States and Ja­pan.

The re­port says it is un­likely Py­ongyang will give up its nu­clear arms or its anti-Amer­i­can pos­ture.

“Aban­don­ing nu­clear weapons or the state’s con­fronta­tional anti-Amer­i­can­ism would con­tra­dict the state’s en­tire mythol­ogy: the ab­so­lute truth that acts as the state’s gen­e­sis,” the re­port says. “To do so would fun­da­men­tally un­der­mine the cred­i­bil­ity of the regime, up­root­ing the foun­da­tions for the ver­sion of the truth that it es­pouses, thus caus­ing the regime to for­feit its le­git­i­macy.”

Rec­om­men­da­tions in the re­port for coun­ter­ing fake news in­clude govern­ment leg­is­la­tion and le­gal reg­u­la­tions and greater news me­dia fact-check­ing.

How­ever, the re­port notes that China’s use of leg­is­la­tion to stop what the govern­ment re­gards as fake news has led to tighter con­trols on in­for­ma­tion and greater re­stric­tions on free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

For so­cial me­dia, a ma­jor plat­form for fake news, tech com­pa­nies need to in­crease the use of ed­i­tors and adopt crowd­sourc­ing meth­ods to iden­tify and stop fake news and the use of tech­no­log­i­cal or al­go­rith­mic so­lu­tions.

The prob­lem of coun­ter­ing fake news is com­pounded by the prospect that re­peat­ing false sto­ries in or­der to cor­rect them can make the prob­lem worse. In some cases, no re­sponse to fake news might be bet­ter than di­rect in­ter­ven­tion.

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