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Misinformation Has Created a New World Disorder (scientificamerican.com)
47 points by kaisix 58 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments



It's not as though the mainstream press are blameless. Maybe they wouldn't have lost their position if they weren't blatantly peddling propaganda. In places like the UK and Canada, the top news agencies are literally government owned. CNN is hilariously biased. Western news outlets have been caught time and time again misleading people.

Alternative news sources are far from perfect as well, but in an age where everyone is trying to mislead, it forces people who want to be informed to actually take in events from multiple outlets and try to discern where truth lies for themselves. Maybe it's my Slavic upbringing, but I was taught to be sceptical of everyone and everything.

Also, information can't be weaponized cheaply. If one side has access to it, so does the other. They counteract each other. In the end, people still have to discern news for themselves.

Finally, it's quite hilarious to hear news outlets trying to convince us that today we're misinformed, and if only we do a few things to 'fix' the system, we can get to a point where they're our only source of news again.


Do you have any solutions? It’s clearly evident that most of the public wants and pays for sensationalism and bias rather than facts, hence as a business, it’s not viable to provide objective truths.

It’s easy to blame “the media”. It’s harder to look at ourselves, relatives, friends, neighbors, and community and say we haven’t really done anything to incentivize good sources of information to exist.

We pay nothing for quality journalism and expect everything. I’m actually impressed with what we do have at least for now.


I'm not sure there is a 'solution' per se. I'm not even 100% convinced any of this is a problem. If we allow a single outlet to become our filter for what's true and false, then they wield too much power over us and history shows at some point in time they will exploit it.

If someone wants to be informed, I'd say go out into the world, talk to people and experience things, but even that has its limits (one person can only see so much). You can take in many different sources and try to filter out the noise, but that takes a lot of time. I try to be informed on topics that matter to me but I'll gladly admit that some topics simply don't matter to me so I don't put in the effort.

In the end, maybe this is the inevitable result of our system. It's far from perfect but I still think it's better than some alternatives.


It seems like the issue is that it takes a lot of time and effort to be informed enough on any topic to make a good decision on it, and people are limited on how many topics they can be reasonably informed about. However, we have an expectation that people should take a stance on any particular event happening in the world when asked for their opinion. The default answer to such a question shouldn't be yes or know, but I don't know, and there shouldn't be any shame attached to not knowing because no one can know everything.

Also, another part of the problem might be how news media implies that by consuming their publications in a few minutes you can be just as informed as the expert who has been studying a topic for years, and how they overinflate people's confidence in what little they know.


> ‘...you can be just as informed as the expert who has been studying a topic for years...’

Reminded me of the BREXIT vote.


Reminds me of the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.


The solution is to criminalize spreading false information and harshly criminalize knowingly spreading false information.


This is amazingly unworkable, even in countries with relatively stable court systems. Reporting of allegations of abuse of power becomes impossible. News would be entirely replaced with celebrity fluff and opinion pieces.


Not with a reasonable set of rules. We have libel laws that have clear definitions and aren't that abused and people still regularly publish.


Huh? Thomson Reuters isn't government owned. BBC are a statutory corporation, as are Channel 4, but there is no direct government involvement in either.


> Huh? Thomson Reuters isn't government owned.

Might have been talking about the Canadian Broadcasting Commission; but I don't know anything about Canada.

> BBC are a statutory corporation, as are Channel 4, but there is no direct government involvement in either.

I found it interesting that there seems to have been something like a minor scandal in 1985 when it was revealed that MI5 was vetting who held BBC leadership positions [0].

1985 was a long time ago; but there is a history there of quiet coordination between government and BBC. I'd still rather have the BBC than CNN or Murdoch though.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC#MI5_vetting_policy


The BBC was never entirely free given that until ECHR we had no legal right to free speech of any kind. Examples from the 80s were the ban on Sinn Fein speaking, and the "Zircon affair".


Aye perhaps, but I thought Reuters were a fair bit bigger than CBC. I think CBC are a similar sort of hands off corporation to C4 and the Beeb, but I don't know Canadian laws too well so there may be differences.

Asking for a security vetting of senior staff isn't so different to BAe (at the time) or a local council asking for one. There'd be a far larger scandal if someone revealed a fascist or communist ended up running the place, no? Hardly interference in programmes...

Agreed on Murdoch. :)


Was referring to CBC. Reuters might be Canadian owned as of recently, but it's certainly not one of the top 3 popular news sources within Canada.


As a child, it was always “Fox is just riling up the old people.” I’m not sure whether CNN was once reasonable, but it seems most, of not all, mainstream press has devolved into that Foxian shit-show for one side of the aisle or another trying to capture eye-balls and add dollars.

My inner conspiracy-theorist wonders if this is divide-and-conquer, or just the death throes of dying media.


I noticed it with CNN back around 2008. I don't remember the specifics these days, but I do remember Glenn Greenwald really making a lot of salient points about the direction that CNN had taken. My inner conspiracy theorist has also spent a lot of time wondering if it's just divide-and-conquer in action.


> In places like the UK and Canada, the top news agencies are literally government owned.

At least this would provide an alternative news source that is not driven by commercial forces, and can focus on what it believes is important, rather than what gets the most eyeballs.

But then the UK tied BBC programme funding to number of viewers (can't find a source, sorry).


The BBC used to be respectable, but they lost their nerve after the Hutton enquiry and have also fallen to the "clickbait" problem of magnifying extreme views.

But they're nowhere near as bad as the rightwing press: Times, Mail, Telegraph, Sun, Express.

The Telegraph is almost the reverse of state-owned media. Since they pay Boris Johnson more than the office of Prime Minister does, in some ways we're a media-owned state.


They don't need to be "as bad." As another user commented, many of us grew up hearing and knowing that Fox News was biased and agitated their watchers with lies and deceit. When I then see the "side" that I associate with, the left-wing press, as it were, using the same tactics, it makes me _much_ angrier than when the right-wing press does it. I expect the right-wing press to pull this bullshit. I expect the left-wing press to be honest.

Either I was naive, which is very likely, or they lost the high ground along the way. At any rate, the effect is the same for me. I don't trust them any longer. And, I don't think I'm alone.


I agree that mainstream media is biased as well. But virtually everything is biased, usually neither readers nor journalists have the time to realize a perspective as unbiased as possible.

The most extreme is probably Donald Trump's Twitter account where he and probably some of his associates sometimes publish tweets every half an hour. There is no way that this information is well reasearched, also with 140 (or 280?) characters even if it was the case, it's practically impossible to compress multiple perspectives in that.

Yellow press is not great but better researched and has more perspective. In fact Journalists have to go through difficult tests when they apply for jobs, at least in Germany, often for outlets where people think it's low quality. Of course then they are also news sources like NYT or magazines like New Yorkers with articles that put things in multiple perspectices and are probably often the product of days, weeks or months of work.

That said, if someone wants as unbiased as possible information about the world, then one should read peer reviewed research papers and books published by researchers. But that's really not news anymore.


Back in the early 90s, I was very optimistic about the potential for Internet-mediated "citizen journalism" to counter misinformation delivered by the mass media.

I was such a bloody idealist. The distinction between democratic populism and mob violence is iffy in practice.


Not a single example of leftist/liberal misinformation in the piece. Either the left are as pure and innocent as a newborn kitten, or this article is itself misinformation.


I'll tell you something interesting.

Yesterday a replicated version of GPT2 was published to the wild[1]. I've been playing with the model quite a bit since then and found something unexpected.

If you give it a right-wing US politics prompt, it performs so well that most of the output could pass for a coherent human without any editing. An example prompt would be

> The only way to save America is to vote for Donald trump. The democrats have failed us

If you give it an inverse left-wing variant of the same prompt, it mostly returns incoherent output and sometimes actually flips back to the right-wing narrative. An example would be

> The only way to save America is to impeach Trump. The republicans have failed us

How well this model performs depends on how much training data it had access to. And this model was mostly trained on Reddit comments. So even this early on, OpenGPT is clearly highlighting biases in Reddit comments. Reddit is traditionally known as the bastion of the left, so the fact that OpenGPT is much more effective at generating right-wing propaganda is indicative of something. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to guess what.

[1] https://medium.com/@vanya_cohen/opengpt-2-we-replicated-gpt-...


It could simply be a consequence of the poor inversion - I don't recall seeing many left-wing news that start with "How to save America". You're effectively giving it conflicting input.


You're welcome to propose a better inversion and I'll check the output and report back.

It does need to be an inversion though, not a complete change of prompt.

It's a general theme with this model though. When you try to get it to do left-wing propaganda, it has a tendency to flip back to right-wing because of the bias in the training data.


But the difference between left and right-wing stories is a complete change of prompt. By requiring an inversion, you're basically requiring a malformed prompt. Which is moot anyway because:

> Reddit is traditionally known as the bastion of the left, so the fact that OpenGPT is much more effective at generating right-wing propaganda is indicative of something. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to guess what.

There are so many ways to interpret this: 1) Reddit may not be such a bastion of the left as you think (several posters claimed so here) 2) Just because a story is right-wing doesn't make it propaganda. 3) Reddit could be a left-wing bastion, and therefore share right-wing propaganda to mock it or hate on it. Just like right-wing sites like to highlight all those "Dear White People: Please Stop" stories by Salon et. al.


I'm sorry you said the inversion is poor so I assumed you had a better one in mind.

Please, give me a pair of left/right wing variants of the same general concept that you think are not 'poor' and lets have a look at what that yields.

Otherwise stop saying the inversion is poor or malformed.


The questions in http://politics.beasts.org/scripts/eigenvectors?surveyid=175... might make a good start, with the addition/removal of "not". Although I'm not convinced that word-handling AI handles "not" correctly.


Not only that, but "the republicans have failed us" suggests that they should've been expected not to, which is almost the exact opposite of the current left-wing rhetoric. It'd be quite hard to find a simple inversion that works here because the two sides use different arguments and different phrasing.


I’ll guess!

Bad programming and poor data!

Or do you have other thoughts?


I'm not really sure where you're going with this, but:

> Reddit is traditionally known as the bastion of the left

Hardly. If anything that was Tumblr. Reddit was always a free space for the far right, and only the most extreme examples have been banned.


Reddit is overwhelmingly left-leaning. Take one look at default subs like news, politics, worldnews to confirm.

Any time someone posts core right-wing views like anti-abortion sentiment or even support of homeschooling, they're downvoted into the ground. Atheism is a default sub. Opponents of gun control are downvoted. etc.

Tumblr is alt-left. A different beast entirely.


> Any time someone posts core right-wing views like anti-abortion sentiment or even support of homeschooling, they're downvoted into the ground.

No they're not.

> Atheism is a default sub.

Reddit got rid of default subs years ago.

> Opponents of gun control are downvoted.

No they're not.

Not to mention, none of this is "left-leaning". Maybe in the SV bubble, it is, but not in the real world.


> Reddit got rid of default subs years ago.

The only thing in your entire comment that's not opinion and the only thing worth answering for the rest of the readers.

Despite there no longer being default subs, most of the userbase is still subscribed to default subs. Which drives activity to them. Which causes new users to subscribe to them.

The top 10 subreddits by activity are: askreddit, politics, funny, pics, awww, worldnews, todayilearned, relationship_advice, amitheasshole, memes. 8 of them were defaults. This isn't going to change any time soon as there's a positive feedback loop perpetuating it.


The comment I was replying to was also soley opinion.


Reddit is a bastion of far-right? I always thought it was a complete mix until recently, where it has become a bastion of lefty types.


Fidelity to reality.

I think that Wendell Berry's "Standing by Words" is relevant

> In his keynote essay, Berry argues that “we have seen, for perhaps a hundred and fifty years, a gradual increase in language that is either meaningless or destructive of meaning.” Furthermore, he continues, “this increasing unreliability of language parallels the increasing disintegration, over the same period, of persons and communities.”

~https://www.enotes.com/topics/standing-by-words

Mom talks about how TVs weren't even a thing when she was a girl. She remembers seeing the first one in the store. Back then they only broadcast for a few hours in the evenings.

Now you can't ride a bus without someone watching TV on their phone.

Nothing on those screens is real. Not even HD surround sound Nature shows are actually real. We are living in a hyper-mediated world.

Align yourself with reality, it's nice out here.


Hmm. In the world you envision I see lower employment because there’s just less work.

Hard to infinity divide and recombine labor in the ‘real world’ of butchers, bakers, construction, grocery stores, mechanics, retail, bus drivers.

Whereas movies, television, streaming, toys, video game tie-ins need a lot of busy people.

I see much more work in software and hardware and security and seo and e-commerce and recommendation engines and social media.

Not to mention JavaScript, Go, Rust, Python, agile-long live agile; down with agile.

Haha. You had me going for a minute.


“Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.” -Thomas Jefferson

Everyone seems to talk a lot about governments, but at some point we may need to explore whether being informed about non-government entities may be just as important in this context.

I would argue that being informed about government is important for preserving a democracy, and being informed about industry is important for preserving a free market. Information inequality threatens the integrity of any system that relies on a group to make decisions, whether it’s a town hall meeting or a shareholder event. By the vote or by the dollar. It creates inefficiencies that are exploited by the information-wealthy.

As regrettable as it is to think this way, I am not sure there is a technological solution to the problem of misinformation. In the very near future we may only want to connect to the internet for entertainment, irrespective of truth. Critical thinking will still be alive, but anyone who engages in it truthfully will probably limit their thoughts to people, things, and events in their immediate surroundings.

Later, when we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll have another chance to be honest with each other.


This is a good list of different type of issues being produced.

I think there is a need of tracking it the same way we track software bugs. I thought Tristan Harris's Ledger of Harm's was a good attempt. Looks like this author is doing a similar thing. Should all be merged into some kind master list that software architects can stay aware of.

The idea of a "9/11" Test, getting software devs to think about how their tools and features will be used during a 9/11 type event is a good suggestion.

I had a boss once who would ask the team, 'how would the most shadiest character you personally know, use this proposed feature?'.


"What would Hitler do?" is the version of the test that I use.


> I had a boss once who would ask the team, 'how would the most shadiest character you personally know, use this proposed feature?'.

I mean society is based on trust and faith, with that kind of reasoning you'll only come up with the most paranoical and authoritarian design schemes.


Human's always game every system we ever develop. It is reasonable to recognize this when you design systems.

I have a f2p game and it is unbelievable how clever some of the free players are at figuring out ways to get everything for free.


> unbelievable how clever some of the free players are

You have my curiosity.


Society works by trust and faith, it's based on vicious talking apes.

In this case, you should be paranoid because we know darn well there are shady people out there trying to get you.

How many times a day does your phone ring and it's some scammer?


Non-paranoid software design gets hacked. Sometimes horrifyingly quickly.




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