As the 2020 US presidential election approaches, watchful eyes are on social media and the looming threat of misinformation campaigns that could be more damaging than those seen in 2016. Artificial intelligence-powered fabrications like deep fakes are the latest high tech concern, prompting worried headlines and congressional hearings. But after less-sophisticated manipulations (including slowed-down video footage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that falsely made her seem to be under the influence or otherwise mentally impaired) went viral, Facebook attempted to justify its decision to keep fake content online by claiming that doing so helped defend democratic discourse.
Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president for global policy management and counterterrorism, presented the company’s case to Anderson Cooper on CNN, arguing that her company had no obligation to pull down phony content, so long as viewers are given enough information to make their own decisions about what to believe. With 2.4 billion users across the planet and fake news created by malicious actors increasingly driving political conversations, will the truth become not one certain reality but, as Bickert put it, an “informed choice”?
In the latest installment of Say WHAT?—the Bulletin’s video series that takes a clear-eyed look at fuzzy policy—Stanford University cybersecurity expert (and Bulletin Science and Security Board member) Herb Lin and Georgia Tech media studies professor Ian Bogost consider the implications of Bickert’s comments and anticipate the chaotic future that could arise without strong intervention. Watch it now.
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“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that, ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'”
That last bit describes Facebook’s opinion exactly: ignorance is as good as knowledge.