Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

“Artificial neural networks are advancing rapidly in their ability to synthesize content — including images, videos, and texts — that are increasingly indistinguishable from authentic content.”

Collective euphoria turned to harsh reality for social media in 2017. Propaganda campaigns came to light. Bot armies continued to bully, intimidate, and harass. Warehouses of trolls pushed political agendas. Public-comment processes were polluted.

Manipulating attention has never been easier.

The key weakness of social media — an inability to ensure the authenticity of communication and interaction — will continue to be exploited in 2018. And it’s going to get a lot worse.

Artificial neural networks are advancing rapidly in their ability to synthesize content — including images, videos, and texts — that are increasingly indistinguishable from authentic content. Just look at the results of state-of-the-art face synthesis here. Phony Yelp reviews that read as legitimate opinion can be algorithmically generated at scale too. These technologies enable believable social posts and profiles to be automatically synthesized whole cloth, essentially “imagined” by neural networks, and they will overrun legitimate speech online. How will we have the debates, dialogues, and dialectic we need to run a democracy?

In the arms race to secure the authenticity of online media, platforms will need to step up their internal protocols for both purging inauthentic accounts as well as identifying influence campaigns. They should be as transparent as possible about this without undermining their efforts. They should also recognize that this is too important an issue to take up solely on their own.

Journalists and other actors in civil society can play a role in helping to hold accountable the authenticity of the communications processes through which the public is informed. But they need far more access to data from platforms if they are to be effective. The platforms should enable this access, recognizing that observation by trusted parties will help identify how the system is being manipulated. Scale means that journalists also need powerful computational tools that can trace information flows. And the development of technically robust and adaptable media forensics tools will be essential so journalists can assess the authenticity of potentially synthesized media.

Appropriate data and tooling in the hands of computational journalists would enable the creation of a new beat covering social influence campaigns. An “online weather report” would show which ways the bot and troll winds were blowing and which topics or issues were being manipulated that day. By grappling with vast amounts of data using computational tools journalists could produce these reports (or even forecasts) that illuminate the flows of information online, fortifying the public against disingenuous and subversive media.

Nicholas Diakopoulos is an assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University.

Julia B. Chan   Looking for loyalty in all the right places

Jarrod Dicker   Honesty in advertising

Taylor Lorenz   Social and media will split

Rachel Davis Mersey   AI, with real smarts

Mary Walter-Brown   Show a little vulnerability

Dannagal G. Young   Stop covering politics as a game

Marcela Donini and Thiago Herdy   Collaboration is the way forward for Brazilian journalism

Tanzina Vega   It’s time for media companies to #PassTheMic

Matt Thompson   Here come the attention managers

Usha Sahay   Wallets get opened

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Seeking trust in fragmented spaces

Kinsey Wilson   Facebook and Google: Help out or pay up

Ariana Tobin   Too tired to tap

Rodney Benson   Better, less read, and less trusted

Richard J. Tofel   The platforms’ power demands more reporters’ attention

Craig Newmark   Working together toward sustainable solutions

Doris Truong   Computer vision vs. the Internet vigilantes

Eric Ulken   The year local publishers get smart(er) about change

Monique Judge   Letting black women tell their own stories

Molly de Aguiar   Good journalism won’t be enough

Tim Carmody   Watch out for Spotify

Tamar Charney   We get serious about algorithms

David Skok   Finding an information-life balance

P. Kim Bui   The reckoning is only beginning

Corey Johnson   The pro-fact resistance

Sydette Harry   Listen to your corner and watch for the hook

Vanessa K. DeLuca   Women’s voices take center stage

Sara M. Watson   Feeds will open up to new user-determined filters

Mi-Ai Parrish   Blockchain and trust

Manoush Zomorodi   Self-help as a publishing strategy

Mira Lowe   The year of the local watchdog

Sally Lehrman   Trust comes first

Rachel Schallom   Better design helps differentiate opinion and news

Jassim Ahmad   Thriving on change

Sam Ford   The year of investing in processes

Alice Antheaume   Are you fluent in AI?

Joyce Barnathan   It will be harder to bury the news

Jake Levine   The return to now

Pia Frey   Address users as individuals

Rodney Gibbs   Tech workers turn to journalism

Errin Haines   At the ballot, it’s time to count black women

Jesse Holcomb   Information disorder, coming to a congressional district near you

Tanya Cordrey   Finally, the seeds of radical reinvention

John Keefe   Scooped by AI

Jim Moroney   Newspapers have to be good enough for readers to pay for

Heather Bryant   Building the ecosystems for collaboration

Jamie Mottram   From pageviews to t-shirts

José Zamora   Revenue-first journalism

Tracie Powell   The muting of underserved voices

Millie Tran and Stine Bauer Dahlberg   (Hint: It’s about your brand)

Jessica Parker Gilbert   Design connects storytelling and strategy

Lucas Graves   From algorithms to institutions

Renée Kaplan   The year of quiet adjustments (shhh)

Jim Brady   With the people, not just of the people

Yvonne Leow   The rise of video messaging

Julia Beizer   A longer view on the pivot

Andrew Losowsky   The year of resilience

Will Sommer   The year local media gets conservative

Neha Gandhi   Filler killers

C.W. Anderson   The social media apocalypse

Ruth Palmer   Risks will grow for news subjects — especially minorities

Cristina Wilson   The year of the Instagram Story

Matt DeRienzo   A recession, then a collapse

Jacqui Cheng   Retailers move into content

Marie Gilot   No assholes allowed

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Fortifying social media from automated inauthenticity

Eric Nuzum   Beyond the narrative arc

Mariana Moura Santos   Think local, act global

Jared Newman   Venture funding and digital news don’t mix

Niketa Patel   Live journalism comes of age

Raney Aronson-Rath   Transparency is the antidote to fake news

Federica Cherubini   The rise of bridge roles in news organizations

Kristen Muller   The year of the voter

Michelle Garcia   Navigating journalistic transparency

Cindy Royal   Your journalism curriculum is obsolete

Amy Webb   Listen to weak signals

Carlos Martínez de la Serna   The new journalism commons

Dan Shanoff   You down with OTT? (Yeah, DTC)

Emily Goligoski   Looking beyond news for inspiration

Feli Sánchez   The year for guerrilla user research

Sam Sanders   Shine the light on ourselves

Francesco Marconi   The year of machine-to-machine journalism

Nathalie Malinarich   Peak push

Justin Kosslyn   The year journalists become digital security experts

Frédéric Filloux   External forces

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   The Snapchat scenario and the risk of more closed platforms

Amy King   Let’s amplify visual voice

Matt Carlson   Attacks on the press will get worse

Pablo Boczkowski   The rise of skeptical reading

Rick Berke   Value is the watchword

Jennifer Coogan   The future is female

Hannah Cassius   The year of the echo-chamber escapists

Borja Echevarría   TV goes digital, digital goes TV

Nancy Watzman   Know thy TV

An Xiao Mina   Memes and visuals come to the fore

Brian Lam   Sketchy ethics around product reviews

Emma Carew Grovum   Newsroom culture becomes a priority

Luke O'Neil   The end is already here

Kathleen McElroy   Building a news video experience native to mobile

Elizabeth Jensen   Show your work

Zizi Papacharissi   Women come back

Rubina Madan Fillion   Unlocking the potential of AI

L. Gordon Crovitz   Serving readers over advertisers

Laura E. Davis   Writing answers before you know the question

Lam Thuy Vo   Breaking free from the tyranny of the loudest

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Publishing less to give readers more

Juliette De Maeyer   A responsible press criticism

Evie Nagy   Pivot to mobile video frustration

Michael Kuntz   The only pivot that might work

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   Skepticism and narcissism

Andrew Ramsammy   The year ownership mattered

Imaeyen Ibanga   Longform video leads the way

Almar Latour   Conquering calm

Hossein Derakhshan   Television has won

Sue Schardt   Jump the niche

Nicholas Quah   Stop talking trash about young people

Michelle Ferrier   The year of the great reckoning

S. Mitra Kalita   The arc of news and audience

Alastair Coote   The year of self-improvement

Dan Newman   A return to trust

Alexios Mantzarlis   Moving fake news research out of the lab

Kim Fox   Audience teams diversify their approach

Ray Soto   VR reaches the next level

Mary Meehan   Real lives are at stake in rural areas

Miguel Castro   The arrival of the impact producer

Aron Pilhofer   We can’t leave the business to the business side any more

Paul Ford   Go global

Damon Krukowski   Reviving the alt-weekly soul

Sarah Marshall   Loyalty as the key performance indicator

Helen Havlak   Keywords, not publishers, power the world’s biggest feeds

Jennifer Brandel and Mónica Guzmán   The editorial meeting of the future

Edward Roussel   Eyes, ears, and brains

Raju Narisetti   Mirror, mirror on the wall

Debra Adams Simmons   And a woman shall lead them

Steve Grove   The midterms are an opportunity

Charo Henríquez   Training is an investment, not an expense

Matt Boggie   The intellectual equivalent of the Dead Sea

Joanne McNeil   Gatekeeping the gatekeepers

Umbreen Bhatti   The trust problem isn’t new

Caitlin Thompson   Podcasting models mature and diversify

Amie Ferris-Rotman   More female reporters abroad (please)

Felix Salmon   Covering bitcoin while owning bitcoin

Daniel Trielli   The rich get richer, the poor scramble

Lanre Akinola   Making noise is not a strategy

Kelsey Proud   No, no, no

Claire Wardle   Disinformation gets worse

Andrew Haeg   The year journalists become relationship builders

Corey Ford   The empire strikes back

Joanne Lipman   Journalists inventing revenue streams

Alfred Hermida   Going beyond mobile-first

Jennifer Choi   Standing up for us and for each other

Cory Haik   Suffering from realness, pivoting to impact

Burt Herman   Things get real

Bill Keller   A growing turn to philanthropy

Adam Thomas   Sharing is caring: The year of the mentor

Carrie Brown-Smith   Transparency finally takes off

Monika Bauerlein   The firehose of falsehood

Mike Caulfield   Refactoring media literacy for the networked age

Kawandeep Virdee   Zines had it right all along

Trushar Barot   The Jio-fication of India

Mario García   Storytelling finally adapts to mobile

Vivian Schiller   Pivot to tomorrow

Nushin Rashidian   Publishers seek ad dollar alternatives

Dheerja Kaur   Fun with subscription products

Susie Banikarim   R.I.P. Pivot to Video (2017–2017)

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Women of color will reclaim and monetize our time

Mariano Blejman   News games rule

Alan Soon   The rise of start of psychographic, micro-targeted media

Caitria O'Neill   The new court of public opinion

Basile Simon   We need better career paths for news nerds

Pete Brown   Push alerts, personalized

Ståle Grut   Reclaiming audience interaction from social networks

Kyle Ellis   Let’s build our way out of this

Mandy Velez   texting is lit rn, fam

Christopher Meighan   Passive partnership is in the rearview

Nikki Usher   The year of The Washington Post