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Fighting fake news will become harder, says Magnus Boyd, partner at Schillings

As more of us use online aggregators to determine what we read, we create our own editorialised bubbles which, in turn, limits our exposure to counter comment and viewpoints.

Telling fact from fiction is only going to get harder as more reality-distorting techniques are developed using artificial intelligence. So called “Deepfakes” are the ability to manipulate audio and video (including live video) to produce, realistic forgeries of people appearing to say or do things that never actually happened.

Speed is of the essence

In today’s fickle and fragmented reputation economy, the speed of response is critical in the event that inaccurate or private information is about to be published.

Whilst personal and corporate brands are grown and valued by their perception online, the internet has also enabled people to attack brands and individuals anonymously and with relative impunity. False information is the weapon of choice.

Even a completely unfounded allegation can spread with extraordinary speed. Last year researchers at MIT analysed Twitter posts by three million people over the last 11 years which confirmed that, “False news travels farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in every category of information – many times by an order of magnitude.”

Quantity not quality

Fake information was 70% more likely to be retweeted than facts and truthful tweets took six times as long as fake ones to spread across Twitter.

It is very easy for a story to gain momentum regardless of its accuracy and appear legitimate simply because of the volume of online activity surrounding it. Indeed, newspaper and television journalists are increasingly citing the level of online interest as the justification and basis for repeating an unproven allegation. And such allegations can dominate Google search results for a long time.

These days everyone is a publisher. You no longer need to be a newspaper magnate to disseminate false news. The web provides a cheap way of raising revenue for NGOs as well as reducing the costs of campaigning online. As a result, NGOs are increasingly flexing their financial muscle in campaigns to turn public and media sentiment against targeted companies.

The customer is being rated by the brand as often as the brand is being rated by the customer. The last time you slammed the door of your Uber, bought something via Ebay or stayed somewhere with Airbnb you were rated as a customer. Apps like Deemly aggregate such reviews to produce ‘trust profiles’ forcing us all to become better behaved consumers.

Truth will out

The status of information has changed to become more accessible, more durable, more dispersed and more valuable. It is the currency against which all other assets are pegged in our reputation economy. For information to retain its value, however, it needs to be accurate.

Written by Magnus Boyd, partner at law firm Schillings

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