Fake news, AI, and the worries ahead | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times

Fake news, AI, and the worries ahead

Jan 14, 2024 05:26 PM IST

Jency Jacob, Managing Editor of BoomLive and his team work to investigate fake news that spreads via the internet and social media

“What no one knows is how misinformation will spread during the election season this year,” says Jency Jacob, Managing Editor of BoomLive. Jacob and his team work to investigate fake news that spreads via the internet and social media. We were in conversation on the role of Big Tech companies this year. Half the world will go to vote for their next head of state, India included. By any yardstick, this is an unprecedented year in the history of the world’s democracies. Jacob’s point is that while people like him and his team have been battling misinformation for long now, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI) over the last year has muddied everything, and most people don’t know what to expect.

Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence

“The biggest challenge this election season apart from usual narrative misinformation that cuts across parties, is going to be how new technologies like AI will be used by them. The recent state elections saw a proliferation of cloned audio generated by AI tools that were pushed to mislead voters. With each passing day, the tech is getting more sophisticated and tougher to detect,” he says.

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“In India, we had cheap fakes, but not deep fakes.” To make his case, Jacob points to an audio video clip that went viral late last year. It contained a voiceover of Amitabh Bachchan asking a question to a participant on the popular show Kaun Banega Crorepati. The content was defamatory because the answer painted then MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan as a criminal. While it was unclear who created and put it in the public domain, the clip was shared by someone as senior as Congress leader Ritu Choudhary. And by the time it was proven that that it was fake, the damage had been done. A few million people had already watched it and many had fallen for it.

Jacob says his team works closely with the misinformation team at Meta (that houses Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram) to identify deep fakes. What is unclear to him though is how much of what is flagged off by the team as disinformation is eventually taken down. “We are given to understand those pieces of content are suppressed,” Jacob says cautiously.

But his interactions suggest to him that the most exasperating entity to deal with is Google because they do not collaborate. What makes it worse still is that their algorithms are opaque. This is particularly significant because Google’s dominance of the search engine market is near total. It also owns YouTube that people use to access multimedia content. “Often times they don’t take down misleading content because they are concerned who may they piss off,” he says.

But Google doesn’t buy these arguments. When asked about dropping the ball on content moderation, a spokesperson said, “Not at all—the baseline approach to our recommendation system is built on principles that have stood the test of time. And as new technologies—and threats—emerge, our systems evolve.”

He was equally unwilling to say acknowledge that content moderation has taken a backseat because their team is now smaller. “Our systems are continually updated, and operating at a scale that we do, moderation is always a combination of manual and automated review systems. So, I would not draw a direct relation between workforce reductions and impact on responsibility efforts.”

Instead, he makes the case that YouTube has always used a combination of people and machine learning technologies to enforce Community Guidelines, with more than 20,000 reviewers across Google operating around the world. “In our systems, AI classifiers help detect potentially violative content at scale, and reviewers work to confirm whether content has crossed policy lines. And AI is continuously increasing both the speed and accuracy of our content moderation systems.”

So, what can be realistically expected about the spread of misinformation? A senior Google-hand who has since moved on and did want to be named, said, “Takedown notices could increase. Backdoor conversations and pressure tactics to remove inconvenient news items will go up. While Google may not comply, the pressure will definitely be there. When out of power, politicians talk of democracy. When in power, they envy Chinese autocrats.”

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