“We were already doing so much to counter the false narratives but it’s going to get even more difficult, so the best we can do is to stay ahead of the game. With or without AI, one thing that we really need to do as fact checkers is to educate people.” – Shelly Walia, Executive Editor, The Quint

Fact checkers have had a busy few years. The deluge of information on COVID-19 and climate change included rumours, misinformation and disinformation on every dimension of these challenges.

To help journalists, editors and newsrooms identify emerging trends in disinformation and keep their journalism practice up to date, the Temasek Foundation WAN-IFRA Journalism Programme recently hosted a webinar on disinformation trends in health and science to  explore the strategies used to clean the information ecosystem and share the tools journalists and newsrooms could use in the ongoing battle for truth.

Panellists included Rachel Blundy, the Hong Kong-based Head of Digital Investigations APAC for AFP; Shelley Walia, Executive Editor of the The Quint, India and Summer Chen, the Chief Editor of the Taiwan FactCheck Center in Taipei. The conversation was moderated by Fergus Bell, Co-founder and CEO of Fathm, and lead facilitator on the journalism programme.

Over the past three years, the organisations of all panellists have developed strategies and interventions to counter a growing ecosystem of disinformation. Now, Open AI and ChatGPT have entered the mix. And the fact checkers are concerned.

“We are worried that ChatGPT will allow misinformation to spread much faster, and for conspiracies to be translated much faster too. So we worry that misinformation will go viral and spread globally faster than before,” says Summer Chen. The Taiwan FactCheck Center has debunked its first ChatGPT narrative – dialogue spread by the ruling party on ChatGPT. “This is a first for us, debunking rumours from ChatGPT. We are very concerned and hope that Microsoft and the open AI team can collaborate with journalists and fact checkers and help them to use this new technology.”

AFP’s Blundy believes that “media literacy is where we should be focusing” if only because any AI effective at countering this disinformation could take a while to develop – and will still need human fact checkers to implement.

“I can see how it could enhance or expand on what we do and maybe be used to have more reach within our organisation, but I haven’t seen evidence that it’s sophisticated enough to do the job of a human fact checker. We have multiple people working on fact checking; there’s two rounds of editing at least, not just one person.”

The Quint’s Walia, believes ChatGPT’s rapid growth will only accelerate the spread of false information – and attempts to mitigate this may fall flat. “We were already doing so much to counter the narratives but it’s going to get even more difficult so the best we can do is to stay ahead of the game. With or without AI, one thing that we really need to do as fact checkers is to educate people to start consuming information with a pinch of salt. We need to develop media literacy on the prevalence of mis- and disinformation so that people stop falling for fake narratives and are able to take a step back and use critical thinking to evaluate information.

“There is also enough evidence to show that AI can be racially biased, and xenophobic. This will translate into more problems, unless it can be nipped in the bud in a way where it is more useful than dangerous.”

To help journalists stay current, there is a new volume of the newsroom guide, Journalism in the Age of Pandemics produced as part of the Temasek Foundation WAN-IFRA Journalism Programme. Request a copy.

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