Examples of composite images designed to be used in disinformation campaigns. Left and Center: This anti-Widodo hashtag was added to the building through the use of a digital image-editing tool. The modification was detected by an algorithm that searches images for inconsistencies in the statistics of their pixels. Right: The CNN International logo has been added to a false news story about Widodo.

An AI early warning system to monitor online disinformation, stop violence, and protect elections

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Examples of composite images designed to be used in disinformation campaigns. Left and Center: This anti-Widodo hashtag was added to the building through the use of a digital image-editing tool. The modification was detected by an algorithm that searches images for inconsistencies in the statistics of their pixels. Right: The CNN International logo has been added to a false news story about Widodo.

Over half the world’s population is now online (Internet World Stats 2019). More than 1.6 billion people use Facebook each day (Facebook 2019), while Twitter has another 145 million daily users (Twitter 2019). But our ability to connect online has far outpaced our capacity to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. Intelligence agencies, political parties, and rogue actors are all taking advantage of this complex and exploitable web of interconnections and using social media to disseminate altered content, fake news, and propaganda to interfere in elections and even to incite direct violence.

As digital forensics researchers, we have been developing artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that validate the integrity of media such as photos or videos for government, commercial, and humanitarian purposes. We believe one important use for this technology is to preserve peace and security by helping guarantee the integrity of democratic elections. Another use is to help provide real time forecasts of mass violence in volatile contexts. With these ends in mind, we are building an early warning system that will employ AI to observe social media for the coordinated dissemination of manipulated disinformation and other emerging malicious trends. This system will be able to warn human observers such as journalists or election monitors about potential threats in real time.

As the coronavirus crisis shows, we need science now more than ever.

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