Fighting Disinformation with Technology: Three Blueprints for a More Trustable Internet

The US midterms and Brazilian presidential elections have shown, once again, how misinformation and disinformation can be used during democratic elections.

Some human rights groups and researchers admit that social media platforms are struggling to follow the agreement signed with Brazil’s Supreme Electoral Court (TSE) in February 2022, where they promised to combat material that could undermine the democratic process.

“On the day of the election, and as the counting of votes was underway in the following days, articles and videos containing misinformation and allegations of electoral fraud began to circulate on social media. [But] When it comes to election fraud, platforms have different policies, and even stronger ones are not always enforced. [and] technology platforms have a track record of bending the rules for powerful actors, and allowing politicians to get away with speech that violates their policies,” Deborah Brown, senior researcher on digital rights, and Maria Laura Canineu, said at Human Rights Watch. October 28, 2022.

Social Media Platforms Have Failed Us

Meta has admitted to having carried out disinformation on Facebook. However, these claims have been scrutinized, and Global Witness, an international NGO, has investigated Facebook’s work.

Speaking about Global Witness’ findings during DTX London on October 13, 2022, Carole Cadwalladr, Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist, said: “[Global Witness] Set up multiple accounts and created five types of ads containing false information about the Brazilian election and five more that delegitimized many aspects of the election itself. They are not based in Brazil, they do not use a VPN and every ad they make intentionally violates all Meta policies. All ads are accepted by Meta and allowed to be posted on Facebook.

After Cadwalladr broke the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, Facebook introduced the Ad Library, which he said “gives some measure of transparency but not enough. Still today, our elections are not safe. Facebook and other social media platforms have failed us and are a threat that can be exploited by actors are as bad as they want to be.

Several organizations have developed various approaches, methods and frameworks to deal with the problem of disinformation. This proposal leverages emerging technologies (including AI, data analytics and blockchain) to provide a more reliable internet. Security examine the three most prominent approaches.

Civil Society Road: Strategic Dialogue Institute and CASM Beam

On November 14, 2022, the think tank Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and Start-up CASM Technology, officially opened Beama multi-lingual, multi-platform toolset dedicated to tracking, exposing and confronting disinformation and other forms of online manipulation and deception.

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According to the London-based developer, Beam consists of two technical layers – described extensively in a white paper authored by Dr. Francesca Arcostanzo and Melanie Smith, from ISD, and Carl Miller, director of research at Demo and co-founder of CASM Technology. .

Beam’s base layer is a machine learning and data analytics tool developed over the last ten years by CASM, called Method52. This tool consists of about 100 components, responsible for many tasks, from collecting data from Facebook, Reddit, Telegram, Twitter, YouTube, PeerTube, 4Chan, Discord, Mastodon, mainstream media news sources and a large number of independent websites, to analyze text using natural language processing (NLP).

Beam’s core layer consists of six Beam programs. Five of them are used to analyze the data collected and selected by Method52 (Beam Collect, Beam Messages, Beam Hate Speech, Beam Accounts, Beam Network and Communities) and one, Beam Window, produces Beam output, including dashboard, data visualization, regular. reporting and alerts, which are used to respond to information threats.

When ISD and CASM started working on tools to fight disinformation in 2015, they wanted to develop a platform that is transparent and independent of any online service provider, can be used in as many data sources, problems and languages ​​as possible – including under-served languages ​​- and adapt and new technologies and new methods of online manipulation.

The construction of the Beam architecture began in 2018. In 2021, they are among the three winners of the US-Paris Tech challenge, a competition on innovative responses to disinformation. They used the $83,000 prize fund to complete the development of the Beam toolset.

While the core team of Beam includes experts in different matters, data journalists, practitioners of open-source intelligence and architects and developers of Beam, they also hope that Beam can be used by civil society organizations and force responses beyond platform removals or journalistic reports.

Practically, the Beam is distributed in two ways:

  • Continuous monitoring, where online platforms, certain forms of language, account lists, channels and spaces are monitored over time to identify emerging information threats, or changes in salience, targeting or influence that are already known to exist.
  • Deeper research, where specific illicit influence campaigns are subjected to decompilation and close examination to identify targets, effects, methods and likelihood of success.

Beam has been unofficially used in several events including the US presidential election in 2020 and 2022 Midterms and the French presidential election in 2022. Outside of the election, Beam has also been used during the Syrian conflict, the COP26 and COP27 climate conferences, and analysis. pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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The Japanese Way: support layer Fujitsu and Keio University

Japanese conglomerate Fujitsu and Keio University’s Trusted Internet Architecture Lab (TIAL) published a white paper on October 13, 2022, introducing a ‘trusted internet architecture,’ an architecture “that layers the Internet with mechanisms to improve data credibility. .”

This ‘support layer’ will scour the internet for authoritative data sources (people, sensors, and other sources of information about a given fact).

Every data added by an entity is subject to a digital signature to show that the source confirms that it is correct. A third party can verify it, giving it a higher level of credibility.

The ‘trusted internet’ model offers “a support graph with data structures that express relationships between additional information related to the data,” reads the white paper.

These support graphics are transparently accessible to users so they can understand the context of news stories and judge the credibility of each source’s data. A browser extension that allows users to filter information from the support graph to meet their needs is suggested as a possible improvement.

The white paper details a scenario in which a social media user posted a picture of what appears to be a high amount of dirty water flowing through the dam’s spillway and into the river with the opinion that ‘it could be a flood.’ The scenario assumes that people see this and conclude there is a flood – causing anxiety among residents, possible panic buying, or even an inappropriate emergency service response.

Users who see articles about possible flooding can request access to different pieces of data about this potential flooding, which will be advertised by the support layer.

“This is expected to make it possible to prevent the use of unreliable data and the re-spreading of disinformation and fake news,” reads the white paper.

TIAL said that they are developing a protocol on which the support graph will be based and a reputation mechanism that will give the source a certain level of credibility. They will also be used to test their models in other use cases.

Blockchain Road: ANSAcheck Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata

In 2020, the Italian news agency Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA) started working together with the consulting firm EY to develop ANSAcheck, a news tracking system based on EY OpsChain Traceability. This technology allows public transactions to be recorded on the Ethereum blockchain.

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With ANSAcheck, readers can check the origin of news that appears on the ANSA platform or other publishers or is distributed to editorial publications or third parties such as social media networks or other platforms.

Each publisher on the platform maintains a private JavaScript library containing original news stories, which is connected to EY’s notarization system. This system is responsible for posting entries on the public Ethereum blockchain and has a backend system that allows publishers to participate in blockchain solutions.

The user interface has a frontend dashboard to monitor news distribution.

EY organizes transactions to be posted on Ethereum using smart contracts, a transaction protocol recorded in the blockchain designed to automatically perform pre-defined actions based on the terms of the agreement – here, that the news comes from vetted publishers and its. contextual details (date and place of reporting, etc.).

Smart contracts reduce the risk of ether price volatility by delaying the processing of new stories if the current cost of ether, the currency used on the Ethereum blockchain, is too high. EY also keeps transaction costs low by bundling multiple news stories into one transaction.

EY designed a three-step process to link ANSA with publishers in its ecosystem. In the first two steps, ANSA publishes and authorizes stories by posting them on the Ethereum blockchain. In the third step, other publishers who want to repost stories with the ANSAcheck verification system will register to use the platform. The publisher will then trigger a transaction.

Since the end of 2020, ANSA has been working with other publishers, starting in Italy, where fake news spread rapidly at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Giuseppe Perone, EMEA blockchain leader at EY Italy, shared his experience with ANSA during a webinar organized by the Hyperledger Foundation on April 4, 2022.

Development For Future Digital Identity Standards

In addition to this approach, several government bodies are also working on a trusted digital identity system to reduce the spread of disinformation, including the European Union and the European Digital Identity Architecture and Reference Framework, and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Verified Credentials. Data Model, both introduced in spring 2022.

Some hope that this digital identity standard, along with an efficient news checking system, can help build a more trustworthy internet in the future.


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