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Renee DiResta: Misinformation is a 'chronic condition'

The avalanche of false news that gathered speed in 2016 isn't going away -- and efforts that focus only on f...

Posted: Nov 17, 2018 3:22 PM
Updated: Nov 17, 2018 3:22 PM

The avalanche of false news that gathered speed in 2016 isn't going away -- and efforts that focus only on fixing the problem are missing the mark, one expert says.

Renee DiResta, the head of policy at Data for Democracy and director of research at New Knowledge, has studied disinformation campaigns for years. In August, she participated in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on foreign influence on social media.

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A clear-cut solution for misinformation might be appealing, but DiResta has found that it doesn't exist.

"I think we have to think of this as more of a chronic condition," DiResta told CNN's Brian Stelter on this week's Reliable Sources podcast.

Propaganda and disinformation have always existed, but "the issue is that right now, we have an information ecosystem that really facilitates the amplification of that content, that facilitates it going viral," DiResta said.

Listen to the whole podcast here:

Foreign actors, terrorists, and spammers take advantage of the internet's fast-spreading pipeline for information. They buy bots to spread messages, amplify manufactured narratives, and post misleading memes for clicks and shares. Researchers like DiResta aim to get ahead of these forces, predict what could happen next, and act accordingly.

"As the actors misuse the platforms, we're going to be responding much like an arms race," she said.

But it's also the responsibility of tech companies to be transparent about when, how, and where they find what DiResta deems the "malign distribution" of content.

The New York Times this week exposed Facebook's failure to properly deal with the early warning signs of Russian interference on the platform as leaders at the company passed off security responsibilities to others.

"To realize the extent to which they knew and how early they knew that was deeply disturbing," DiResta told Stelter. She believes that tech companies are improving in their efforts to combat misinformation, but it's also time for the government to step up.

"I am not advocating for the regulation of ideas," she said. "I am advocating for oversight. I think what we saw in that article... is that self-regulation with no oversight does not work."

The government has tried, in part, to police Big Tech. Last fall, Senators Amy Klobuchar, Mark Warner, and John McCain introduced legislation called the Honest Ads Act that would require the same disclosures for online political ads as those on TV and the radio.

Users continue to encounter extreme and false content on social sites, in part because platforms like Facebook are designed to keep people engaged. Algorithms have learned that sensationalist content maintains eyeballs -- and ad dollars.

The consequences of such a system are far-reaching.

"Democracy is predicated on an informed electorate," DiResta said. "Things like misinformation, radicalization, pushing people into conspiratorial groups and then profiting from that because it drives engagement, that's just not a viable state for the information ecosystem to be in."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 307836

Reported Deaths: 7119
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto20784248
Hinds19894408
Harrison17493302
Rankin13316275
Jackson13099243
Madison9896210
Lee9859169
Jones8293160
Forrest7523146
Lauderdale7189237
Lowndes6265144
Lamar610784
Lafayette6028117
Washington5280132
Bolivar4770129
Oktibbeha455297
Panola4442103
Pearl River4420139
Warren4281118
Marshall4273100
Pontotoc416472
Monroe4057132
Union403775
Neshoba3988176
Lincoln3871108
Hancock372185
Leflore3468124
Sunflower329389
Tate322781
Pike3181104
Scott310572
Yazoo304368
Alcorn297764
Itawamba296876
Copiah293065
Coahoma289677
Simpson287484
Tippah284868
Prentiss275659
Marion265979
Wayne261341
Leake261173
Grenada254982
Covington254580
Adams245982
Newton244859
George237847
Winston225981
Tishomingo222067
Jasper219748
Attala213373
Chickasaw204857
Holmes186471
Clay182454
Stone179131
Clarke176876
Tallahatchie175540
Calhoun163230
Yalobusha158836
Smith158634
Walthall130543
Greene129433
Lawrence126323
Noxubee125933
Montgomery125542
Perry125138
Carroll120826
Amite120141
Webster113432
Jefferson Davis105432
Tunica102525
Claiborne101330
Benton97225
Kemper95226
Humphreys94332
Franklin81923
Quitman78916
Choctaw72817
Jefferson64828
Wilkinson64727
Sharkey49617
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 519071

Reported Deaths: 10712
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson754131487
Mobile37774798
Madison33868494
Tuscaloosa25283443
Montgomery23969565
Shelby23112238
Baldwin20638300
Lee15524165
Calhoun14286311
Morgan14140268
Etowah13664345
Marshall11957219
Houston10383278
Elmore9994200
Limestone9814147
Cullman9475188
St. Clair9429234
Lauderdale9218227
DeKalb8747181
Talladega8060171
Walker7092275
Jackson6755110
Autauga6727103
Blount6488135
Colbert6205130
Coffee5401112
Dale4768110
Russell428938
Franklin419982
Chilton4083109
Covington4053114
Tallapoosa3893146
Escambia388074
Dallas3527149
Chambers3500122
Clarke346360
Marion3066100
Pike305875
Lawrence295395
Winston272372
Bibb256458
Marengo248661
Geneva245875
Pickens232959
Barbour224955
Hale218775
Butler212366
Fayette208960
Henry187844
Cherokee182044
Randolph176941
Monroe171540
Washington164038
Macon154848
Clay149454
Crenshaw149357
Cleburne146041
Lamar139334
Lowndes136453
Wilcox124327
Bullock121340
Conecuh109028
Perry107926
Sumter102932
Coosa99328
Greene90734
Choctaw58724
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