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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcastthat takes big ideas in civic life and democracy and turns them into action items for everyday citizens.

May 29, 2020

Viral Model

Trammell created a viral disease model to mimic how fake news spreads. People must come in to contact with the fake information in order to be infected, just as with a virus. The more people are exposed, the more it spreads. The research shows that individuals who claim to be online for more than 10 hours a day are more susceptible to fake news. Flattening the curve of false information requires countermeasures on multiple fronts.

Counter Measures

Fake news is likely here to stay, but it is possible to mitigate its spread and efficacy. France effectively employed a “pre-bunking” strategy in its last presidential election. The government warned citizens that fake news would be coming from Russia, and preemptively distributed factual information to counter false narratives. Other necessary counter measures are aggressively attacking fake accounts (bots), building a reputation system to identify bad actors and reliable sources, educating schoolchildren to be vigilant consumers of the news, and cultivating a habit in citizens to never rely on a single source for information.

Future of Fake News

Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing the fake news frontier. The rise of Deep Fake videos is an alarming trend because they are virtually unidentifiable as fake, and humans are much more likely to believe audio or video. AI can also glean audience predispositions and specifically target fake news to susceptible users, like Google targets ads. Coupling Deep Fakes and AI targeting with “nuanced” fake news—information that is mostly true with only certain key details changed—will make fake news a more and more trenchant problem in the months and years ahead.

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Lieutenant Colonel Travis Trammell is a career U.S. Army Officer with operational experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt. At Stanford, Travis is a Ph.D. Candidate with the Management, Science and Engineering Department, inside the Engineering Risk Research Group and a Predoctoral Fellow with the Program on Democracy and the Internet. His research focuses on quantitative risk analysis of nation state promoted fake news and influence campaigns.

Dr. Marie-Elisabeth Paté-Cornell is the Burt and Deedee McMurtry Professor in the School of Engineering and Professor and Founding Chair (2000-2011) of the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. Her specialty is engineering risk analysis with application to complex systems (space, medical, offshore oil platforms, etc.). Her recent work is on the use of game theory in risk analysis with applications that have included counterterrorism, nuclear counter-proliferation problems, and cyber security. She is the author of more than one hundred publications, and the co-editor of a book on Perspectives on Complex Global Problems (2016).