How many of us global development professionals start the New Year with scanning predictions for “the top ten greatest threats for global security”? Or, long for the days when there was broader support for democracy and global alliances? Even those of us who met early 2019 goals in exercising more, volunteering, or eating well may not have avoided scanning a Facebook feed. We have become part of the growing percentage of the population that cites Facebook as its primary news source.
Historically, Facebook was known as a photo-filled freshman guide for incoming university or college classmates: Horrible picture. Great smile. Google was deemed a somewhat risky investment venture due to sparse advertising and design. Journalism was a noble profession designed to objectively inform the public. Artificial intelligence (AI) did not monitor our habits, source content, or direct us to curated sources of information.
All generalizations, but true to one extent: less than two decades ago, we were not prepared for the prevailing 2019 security challenge – “AI and disinformation campaigns are key threats to social and national stability.” Software applications that run online robots (bots) can replicate content across social media. Deepfake technology can doctor video and audio to assume false identities. Scan the news. See the ever-alarming feeds.
Granted, disinformation and technological amplification are nothing new. Even Socrates cautioned about the social consequence of intentionally misleading information. What is different is the sheer speed and scale of their replication. So how, as global development professionals, do we help increase the quality and consumption of information amidst these threats in 2019?
Our colleagues in Eastern Europe and East Africa propose to go back to the basics:
Media and AI literacy efforts can benefit from similarly simple and culturally applicable tools that educate and entertain on a broad social scale. Such public education programs can also help increase citizens’ demand for quality information by using social marketing principles to change awareness and behavior.
Tamara Babiuk is the Co-Director of Dexis’ Center for Global Security and Stabilization (CGSS). She has worked in democracy and governance in over 20 countries, and was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communications.