How newsrooms fight disinformation
Q&A with Julia Bayer and Ruben Bouwmeester, DW Research and Cooperation projects
Tuesday, December 14 • 12:00-13:00 CET • via Zoom
How do journalists work against mis- and disinformation? What are the workflows for the verification of content? What are the main challenges for newsrooms? And: What do the experts expect from future blockchain solutions? To get answers and insights please join us for an open webinar on December 14, 2021, from 12:00 – 13:00.
Join us as a guest
The event is organised for the now 25 funded project teams of TruBlo. But participation is open for guests from the NGI community, EU researchers, startups and developers. If you want to join as a guest please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we sent you the log-in credentials for the Zoom conference.
The experts will give a very brief overview, the session will then allow for Q&A by the participants.
What we discuss:
- How do journalists cope with disinformation?
- What are the workflows?
- Is there a way to overcome the current crisis of trust?
- What tools are available and working?
- What are current views on blockchain technology used for trustable content?
As part of the talk, the experts will talk about tools created to fight disinformation and to help with verification. Examples are the InVid verification plug-in, work done in the EU research project Digger (Deepfake detection) and Truly Media. The latter is a software platform for collaborative verification. Truly Media is used by a number of organisations, e.g. Amnesty International, Reuters, ZDF and the European Parliament.
Julia Bayer is an investigative journalist who dives deep online using OSINT. She has gained first-hand experience from work in the social media team of Deutsche Welle. In addition, she works as an innovation manager of the Research- and Cooperation team of Deutsche Welle. Julia is involved in a number of verification projects, such as the implementation of Truly Media and InVid. She also trains journalists in OSINT techniques and digital verification. Julia has worked with journalists in multiple international locations and has worked with newsrooms, NGOs and DW academy. Julia is the founder of @quiztime on Twitter, where a worldwide community of participants regularly has to solve verification and geolocation tasks.
Ruben Bouwmeester brings concept development skills and profound graphical expertise. In his role as an innovation manager, Ruben was a key contributor to several software solutions and platforms used for the detection of disinformation and deep fakes. Ruben has been a key architect and manager for Truly Media, a collaboration platform created by the DW ReCo team in collaboration with Athens Technology Center. He has a background in project management, concept development, and design, holding a B.A. from The Hague University. As a ReCo innovation manager, Ruben specialises in User Generated Content (UGC), verification, and HLT. He also trained journalists at DW Akademie.
A condensed weekly update from the intersection of trust, content, and blockchain.
Estimated reading time: 9 minutes (1873 words)
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Projects: Check out the profiles of funded projects on our website.
Kick-off with projects selected in the second open call: Last week, TruBlo organized a two-day kick-off with the 15 projects selected for funding in the second open call. In total, including the projects selected in the first open call, there are now 25 active projects.
Updates this week:
A lot of trust for few: Crypto Custody Providers
Crypto custody providers are specialized services. Their job is to store currency securely. In the current market, eight of these platforms have a relatively large share of the market:
“10% of all cryptocurrency ($250 billion) is stored on just 8 crypto custody tech providers/custodians”.
Blockdata has an overview and comparison of these providers.
“Like in a wild west movie when the sheriff rides into town.”
How much cryptocurrency has been stolen so far? Here is one estimate: Roughly $10 billion, between 2011 to 2021. Is that a lot? Not so much? Hard to judge. To be fair: Even in the traditional banking market, money scams result in money every year. Potentially the crypto market is not worse, but not better either. The big challenge here is that usually, people are tricked into handing out their credentials. Still, about a third of the losses are because of security breaches.
In more detail:
- In total, $2.86 billion has been stolen through security breaches and $6.8 billion has been stolen through scams, and $0.335 billion through DeFi hacks.
- In the US, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized cryptocurrencies to the value of $3.5bn, which is 93% of all seizures.
- Approximately $10 billion in total worth of cryptocurrencies has been stolen between 2011 and May 2021
Quote: “It’s like in a wild west movie when the sheriff rides into a lawless town – they need to have brought the big guns with them if they’re going to get the situation under control. These “guns” broadly fall into two areas – new laws and new tools.”
An informative article by fin-tech writer Chris Gledhill on LinkedIn provides more numbers and trends (and links to official reports).
The Do-Everything companies
The “Wall Street Journal” documents how fast-growing tech companies are diversifying into one area after another. They are overtaking the former positions of the “old guard”, companies like General Electric or Siemens.
Why it matters: Media and communication markets are more affected by monopolistic structures than utility markets. It might be bad for the price competition if all electricity comes from one company. But if all information and advertising come from just a very few companies, it is a complex problem.
What is Explainable AI (XAI)?
Artificial intelligence systems should not be a black box. Although it might be complex to understand how a system works, judging and verifying the output should be possible. This must be possible for the conclusions as well as how the system came to them. To get there, we need “explainable AI” (XAI).
- Explainable AI comes in three types:
- Global (what the system is doing),
- Local (how a model came up with a prediction), and
- Social (how users might behave in response to the system’s predictions)
This is viewed as important:
- A survey by IDC from 2020 showed that many business buyers see “explainability” as a “critical requirement”.
- The European Commission High-Level Expert Group on AI has referenced XAI as a guiding principle.
Venture Beat: What is explainable AI? Building trust in AI models
NGI Policy Summit: How can we rebuild the internet as a public good?
From November 29 to December 1, 2021, the European “Next Generation Internet” (NGI) community came together to discuss the future of the internet.
The Policy Summit discussed how we could build an alternative model for the future of the internet through the lens of three overarching themes: keeping the internet global, building a sustainable, interoperable Internet, and reclaiming the internet as a public good.
Note: There is a great option to view selected speeches “on-demand”, meaning that you can select the speakers and talks you are interested in. Our recommendation is to watch the talk by book author and internet activist Cory Doctorow.
European Innovation Report: Some progress here
“The European Innovation Report 2021” provides some evidence that the deep gap between start-up and funding activities in the US and Europe might become more narrow. There is a notable increase in innovation funding and startup activities in Europe. Gradually the EU can claim progress in the field of fast-growing (and well funded) startups.
A question for the future is: How will the EU companies differ (in business models, values, ethics) from the large US or Chinese companies.
EU Commission supports a “European Newsroom.”
The EU supports the organisation of a collaborative project to report European news. The project will bring together 16 news agencies and be led by “Deutsche Presse Agentur” (dpa) from Germany.
Key design challenges for crypto and Web3
As a consumer, as a normal user: How will you tell a scam from the correct log-in page of a cryptocurrency platform?? If you are a project manager for a crypto platform, this article is required reading. It shows examples and helps to understand better what the solution must be.
Cosmetics company Lush demands actions for a safer environment from platforms
Lush announced that it would close down the Instagram, Facebook, TikTok and Snapchat account it operates in all 48 countries they are present.
They demand actions from the platforms “to provide a safer environment” for users. Twitter and YouTube will stay in operation.
Axie Infinity: Is the play-to-earn model sustainable? Experts have doubts.
For every gamer, this must sound too good to be true: Get paid to play. This, though, is what the platform Axie Infinity offers. The company is the “current flag-bearer for the emerging play-to-earn (P2E) business model” (Source: Naavik).
Here is how it works: You get paid in cryptocurrency if you fight monsters in Axie Infinity. But there is a catch. To start the game, you have to pay an entry fee of $1,000. Many players come from low-income countries and do not have such an amount. This has led to the emergence of sponsors, who enable a new player to get in, but then take a cut of the earnings. So far, so complex.
At the current state, the game economy is dependent on massive user growth to pay existing players. But this year, the cryptocurrency used in the game by the name of “Smooth Love Potion” (SLP) has lost value compared to US-Dollar. Analysis firm Naavik published a partially free study about Axie, link below.
Financial Times ($): Crypto’s hottest game is facing an economic maelstrom
Analysis by Naavik (partially free to read)
Seeing is believing? Look at these examples of deep fakes and think again
This links to an older article from Technology Review (from August 28, 2020). But have a look, it’s important to see this. The article shows how easy it is to use Software to create deep fakes. There are examples in the article, which have a surprisingly high quality.
The creations that are possible are used for all kinds of memes. For all kinds of platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and TikTok.
This means: Millions of people are seeing them. Users need to recalibrate what they think is true and what is not true. As the article says: Things are getting weird.
Metaverse: Crypto states vs crypto corporates
Who will be the leading force in the future metaverse: A large company pushing advertising into every area? Or will new organisations and groups be pushing against pure commercial usage? Fascinating outlook into the future.
Enterprise Blockchain Report: Funding requirements for startups notably higher
LeadBlock Partners, a venture capital fund, has published its enterprise blockchain report. The data is based on 250 startups. In comparison to earlier surveys, the startups expect to need higher funding to succeed.
According to the survey, a challenge for raising money is the lack of blockchain know-how among investors. 58% of the interviewed startups disagreed with the question of investors’ competence in this field.
Another question of the survey was which platforms the startups would choose. Ethereum is still in the lead here, with a share of 28%. The article has a breakdown of all platforms in use, with more detail.
Ledger Insights: Enterprise blockchain startup funding requirements more than double
Mosaico: Using tokens to connect startups with investors
Mosaico is located in Poland. They facilitate contact between startups and investors. So far, the company has an amount of $12.5 million for 28 projects. To an extent, the tokenization of a business project is a very early IPO – in the sense that investors can buy parts of the company.
“With four years of presence in the crypto industry, Mosaico has successfully incorporated blockchain technology into equity crowdfunding within Europe. Besides creating attractive opportunities for investors to diversify their portfolios, the entity plays an advisory role for its patrons and beneficiaries. “ (Cointelegraph)
CurioNFT offsets carbon emissions using “lazy minting”
The criticism over energy use for mining Bitcoins or minting NFTs (Non-fungible tokens) seems to result in platforms taking action. For an upcoming NFT project, CurioNFT will reduce carbon emissions by using “lazy minting”. This means that the process is initiated at a time of low Ethereum usage, thus “generating 2% of the emissions of a typical NFT”. The platform says the carbon costs are equivalent to sending 17 emails with attachments. The company is involved in other activities to offset emissions. They have so far planted 12,000 trees.
The Block Crypto
Quick updates: Recent news about digital money/blockchain in El Salvador, the EU, Japan, Nigeria
- El Salvador: The International Monetary Fund issued a note about the financial situation in El Salvador. The IMF warned the country about the risks associated with its blockchain policies. In the country, Bitcoin is an official currency. LINK
- The EU Parliament and the European Council are moving forward to allow a pilot program for blockchain-based tokenized securities (EU Report here). This would allow financial instruments like stocks or bonds could utilize blockchain as the backend technology. Quote: “Under the sandbox program, certain existing legal requirements are temporarily waved, subject to limits.” LINK
- Large banks in Japan and 70 other companies are getting ready to trial a new digital currency for large business transactions. The trial is planned for the second half of 2022. LINK
- Nigeria: The country’s central bank wants financial institutions to develop products based on the newly introduced CBDC. An opportunity here to develop secure, usable solutions. LINK
Square Decentralized Exchange Protocol white paper
Financial company Square published a white paper for a decentralized exchange protocol. The idea would be to enable payments across different types of fiat and cryptocurrencies. LINK
How can Ethereum evolve with Layer 2?
Ethereum has evolved into the key platform enabling smart contracts. But future growth is inhibited due to high gas prices for transactions. This is why some companies and solutions are now providing Layer 2 services.
A quick definition: “Layer 2 is another network working above the leading Ethereum network. The Layer 2 solutions stay above the Layer 1 network through a smart contract. Layer 2 can interact with the leading network and not rely on modifications to their base protocols.”
Blockchance Conference, Hamburg – December 2-4, 2021
More than 4,000 delegates, including blockchain and AI experts, developers, investors, CEOs and advisors from the EU Commission, are expected in Hamburg for the hybrid Blockchance Europe 2021 underway in the Chamber of Commerce from December 2-4.
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Photo by NASA on Unsplash
The fight against misinformation can be compared to a big clean-up initiative: Think of your neighbourhood is covered with trash, not only from last week but several years. Littering everything is done quickly, but cleaning up takes much longer.
What is important here is to rethink, critically, what we consider as content. Yes, a news article is clearly content. But there are today many other forms of information bits that are either preceding or following pieces of traditional news media content. And it should be clear that all these added bits of information must be reliable and trustable.
When falsified content goes viral, lives might be in danger
One big criticism towards large social media platforms is about not having foreseen and then later not having acted against dynamically generated information, based on posts, comments, discussions. When falsified content goes viral, lives can be in danger. There are documented cases where false information was used to incite anger among a group, sometimes leading to angry mobs in the streets burning down the house of a victim of such allegations.
We must, as a result, be clear that all elements of what we consider trustable information must be verifiable. Content components include of course written text. But the definition of what is the content must include pictures, artwork/visuals, videos, video stills, numerical data, system data, raw or aggregated data, algorithms. In addition, we must include user-generated content, such as discussions, opinions and other interactions on social media. So far, on a technical level, it is very difficult to separate one from the other, if only the words are analysed. One take-away is that all kind of meta-data must be included in the analysis, too.
Most difficult: Mixing true and false information
A very difficult problem here is when correct content is taken out of context and is combined or mixed with false or fabricated information – the connection is hard to distinguish, specifically by automated searches. Humans might be able to see the difference, but there is no feasible way that every item of information is checked for plausibility or truth by a human. Search strings and search methods to identify new information are as important to evaluate as other forms of information detection.
Just one example to illustrate how technical systems can be tricked is the manipulation of publication dates for information. A malicious actor might have written false content, with catchy headlines. In order to let a search spider pick up the content as new, it is sufficient to re-publish the content, potentially on a different website and under a different URL and IP address.
Fraud detection can be tricked
Much of the data used by Google for search depends on what website owners and content creators provide. Of course, there are all kinds of fraud detection, but in a world where not many data points for content that is published via Content Management Systems can be verified at the source, the search engines do have not many options. Further, of course, the number of content sources that are intentionally falsifying what they publish is always only a fraction of the total. But because they have a chance to go undetected they can do so much harm.
If a website methodically refreshes dates for the content on its pages there are not many ways for search engines to detect this. Or, in other words: With the right motivation and a little bit of know-how, it is possible to trick search spider software into believing that a recycled article has been published very recently.
What is the main motivation to invest work into falsified content? Presumably, the main and the most frequent motivation is simply to make money. Running a partially automated fake news system and connecting it to an advertising platform can result in a very good payout.
Perspective: $50 billion lost to ad fraud by 2025
A report published by industry organisation IAB Europe says: “According to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA), it is estimated that by 2025, over $50 billion will be wasted annually on ad fraud.”
After the 2016 election researchers found that a considerable number of entirely faked articles were coming from a region as far away from the US as Macedonia. Some people there had learned how to make money through digital advertising and the key was to write entirely falsified, but outrageous articles about political candidates. The wilder the allegations, the better the click rates and shares for such content. This created a mini-industry based on “fake news” in the region.
The techniques which make ad fraud successful can be used for political or criminal disinformation campaigns. The financial motivation for ad fraud exploits helps to build experience and a lot of practical knowledge on how to mislead existing platforms, which then can be reused for targeted disinformation campaigns.
These are some, but not even all arguments why we need to broaden our understanding of what is content. Over time there should be detection measures, even at the source where the information is published, to enable 100% verification.
Examples of funded projects from TruBlo
Among the ten projects which received funding in the 1st open call are several which are explicitly looking for new ways to detect falsified information and content. Some examples below, full list can be found here.
CONTOUR – Trusted content for tourism marketing purposes
LEDGEAIR – Aircraft data mining framework
ShoppEx – to restore the trust between retailers/brands and consumers
IAB Europe: Guide to ad fraud, 2020