Fact Checking Can Be Manipulated To Disinform The Public – OpEd


Fact-checking is now a very effective tool to fight and reduce the spread of disinformation in society. Their published reports help correct our perception of reality and take the proper action based on formulating the correct opinion. Many maliciously shifted from denying or debunking these reports to attacking and manipulating these systems. This insidious tactic may delegitimize the industry and alter its public trust. 

When Russia invaded Ukraine, it concurrently launched a disinformation campaign to sway the public and twist the facts on the ground and control the narrative, the tactics used in this campaign were conventional such as spreading fake news stories, Online bots farms, and officials peddling about the war, but with that Russia also attempted a new an unconventional by creating a fake fact-checking organization called War on Fake, that has a website and telegram channel, a review  Politifact, the known fact-checking organization, found that most of the produced fact-checking reports are not accurate.

On other occasions, Russia utilized fact-checking to create a foggy information ecosystem in favor of its agendas. In march 2022, researchers at Clemson University’s Media Forensics Hub and ProPublica also identified several videos that claim to debunk non-existent Ukraine fakes. The rationale behind these videos is to cast doubt and make people uncertain about the situation. In July 2021, this tactic was also used  by a pseudo-fact-checking organization in Eritrea to disinform the public about the sexual assault on the ground by a 

Twitter recently launched birdwatch, a fact-checking initiative that taps into the power of its users to fact-check the content on the platform, users who participate in the information, and provide contextual information. While this effort seems promising, the system is not immune to manipulation. In September 2022, a leaked report showed that the system accepted an advocate of QAnon, the well know American conspiracy theory movement. It’s undoubtedly, the open nature of this system makes it susceptible to similar attacks in the future. 

One possible scenario threat could come from attacking the automated fact-checking systems. These systems rely on artificial intelligence algorithms to entirely or alter the reports. A cyber attack may tweak or alter the reports. While this could be readily discovered and corrected, it will still cause a considerable damage to the trust in the fact-checking reputation. 

While manipulating the fact-checking organizations has not yet become a known approach, we should be ready for more and more sophisticated attacks, tech platforms should take reasonable measures and formulate policies to mitigate this risk,  and media literacy efforts should be updated to include these new tactics. 

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