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Quit running from news: fear of fakery is greater than the fake itself

Much has been made of a new age of disinformation enabled by AI. Turns out, reality is a lot odder and less predictable.

by Rob Corbidge
Published: 14:05, 11 July 2024

Rob Corbidge is Head of Content Intelligence at Glide Publishing Platform, applying the latest knowledge about advances and ideas in the publishing industry to our own product and helping clients get the most from their content.

a person running away from technology

Much silliness afoot around AI - of little surprise to any of us working in media and publishing, inoculated as we are against the virus of hype. 

A claim of silliness is nothing without a good example, and so it revealed itself during UK election day last week, after it was claimed that one of the parties was using an AI-created candidate. 

Just wait a wet Wednesday minute, what? The online chatter went that the candidate's picture was clearly AI-created and therefore he didn't exist. A standard pile-on took place over on X before the poor guy came forward and explained the photo has just been bodgily brushed up to give it that vote-for-me sheen, and he was very real (and, unelected).

It seems we are at a stage where the use of AI is used as a threat of unfathomable peril, without anyone having to articulate the precise nature of the peril at all, or worse, even needing to. The word "deepfake" has taken on such threatening cultural mass that the merest use of it conjures up for some deceptive abilities so convincing that no one alive, human, vegetable or mineral, is safe from such manipulation. 

You could just dismiss it all by saying "I've yet to see such abilities manifest themselves." Yet such is the frenzy of fear that they would respond "That's because they look so convincing!". Ugh. As a friend explained, don't wrestle with pigs: you'll only get dirty and the pig will just enjoy it.

Quite why humans - with our proven capacity for deception over millennia - apparently need assistance in the dark arts of manipulation and propaganda is not a question that sits comfortably with this omniscient AI narrative, and in that sits an uncomfortable truth: the suggestion of manipulation and deception mostly plays into the hands of those doing the manipulating and deceiving.

The very suggestion of widespread machine-created peril creates an environment of uncertainty, and that uncertainty is the soil in which more uncertainty can be planted.

It's important to note, I'm not using this an example of one side doing bad things to another more innocent side. What occurred in this example merely illustrates how the very use of "AI" plants seeds of unjustified uncertainty. It's a tactic very few participants in the current shifting multi-dimensional political landscape are likely to find truly shocking.

In the UK, the BBC has somewhat inevitably been drawn into this circus of facts as volatile commodities, or has at least reacted to the suggestion of widespread deception. Yet even its own Verify fact-checking unit has turned over no significant fake stones during this election cycle, as reported here.

With political theatre as we've just experienced in the UK, who needs fakery? You can't write this stuff, and fakery needs to be written.

The fact is, if this election taught us anything it's that a low-effort post mocking its participants by a sharp 18-year-old can probably have as much effect as 10 highly-paid London political PRs spamming their contact books. Bless the internet.

So what of us publishers, the tent poles of political reality (and many other realities)? 

It's good news when you look at it qualitatively. Our media served us pretty well, by which I mean the multiplicity of media across all channels. You could have attached yourself to the most partisan of outlets, or you could have taken the nuance of a knife-edge and tried to find the middle. 

What there was little shortage of was information and opinion, and that most valuable of intangible assets that publishers deal in, trust, appears to have suffered no great loss, even if no great gain.

There may be new methods of attempted deception, but the intent behind them has been with us much longer. 

The fact that the quote: "You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time" has been both attributed to Abraham Lincoln and PT Barnum tells all you need to know to about the world. 

Me? I'm fairly certain it was Heisenberg.

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