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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.

Disinformation

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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: 333180

Reported Deaths: 7502
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22901279
Hinds22780438
Harrison19569326
Rankin14851287
Jackson14342251
Madison10692227
Lee10437179
Jones8746169
Forrest8210157
Lauderdale7561243
Lowndes6790150
Lamar669688
Lafayette6459124
Washington5516139
Pearl River4915149
Bolivar4909134
Oktibbeha478498
Panola4723112
Marshall4654106
Warren4640127
Pontotoc440473
Monroe4255137
Union425379
Neshoba4182180
Lincoln4098115
Hancock405088
Leflore3565125
Pike3530112
Tate349588
Alcorn343974
Sunflower343093
Adams333387
Scott331775
Yazoo331173
Simpson314890
Copiah313867
Itawamba310180
Coahoma308785
Tippah298868
Prentiss292963
Covington282483
Marion279580
Leake278475
Wayne270743
Grenada266388
George261651
Newton256664
Tishomingo236869
Winston235584
Jasper226148
Attala220873
Chickasaw216360
Stone210237
Holmes195674
Clay192254
Clarke182080
Tallahatchie181742
Calhoun177532
Smith175935
Yalobusha169440
Walthall141548
Lawrence137726
Greene135734
Amite132843
Noxubee131635
Perry131038
Montgomery130944
Carroll124531
Webster117532
Jefferson Davis113334
Tunica111127
Benton104625
Claiborne104331
Kemper100729
Humphreys99133
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw81319
Wilkinson74632
Jefferson69728
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 570667

Reported Deaths: 11483
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson834821584
Mobile45819855
Madison36785532
Tuscaloosa26757465
Shelby26612255
Montgomery25739624
Baldwin23810325
Lee16801181
Calhoun15130332
Morgan14941289
Etowah14662368
Marshall12806235
Houston11515292
Elmore10654217
St. Clair10521251
Limestone10472158
Cullman10257204
Lauderdale9991253
DeKalb9298191
Talladega8739187
Walker7594286
Autauga7419113
Jackson7269117
Blount7184139
Colbert6583142
Coffee6045131
Dale5326117
Russell465842
Chilton4645117
Covington4579125
Franklin444381
Tallapoosa4379157
Escambia420082
Chambers3852125
Dallas3688163
Clarke364462
Marion3380106
Pike324879
Lawrence3192101
Winston291072
Bibb280165
Geneva271583
Marengo258567
Barbour243461
Pickens239162
Butler236172
Hale231878
Fayette224564
Henry205145
Randolph194944
Cherokee193948
Monroe192141
Washington177139
Macon167552
Crenshaw164458
Clay162559
Cleburne159145
Lamar149538
Lowndes144354
Wilcox129231
Bullock125642
Conecuh118130
Coosa116029
Perry109928
Sumter108032
Greene97836
Choctaw63825
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