Tech Tock...

  • Howard Cohen
| May 2018

Time is Running Out to Find Solutions to Mis- and Disinformation and Privacy Problems

In-depth Research Report, Harvard Kennedy School


“Fake news” has become a term used by the U.S. President to discredit journalists. “Fake news” is becoming a means for governments around the world to justify censorship. And “fake news” threatened U.S. democracy and institutions in the 2016 Presidential election. The term itself is thrown around more than solutions to the problem, also referred to as misinformation (“the inadvertent sharing of false information”) and disinformation (“the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false”). I endeavor to change that with this article, which focuses on what can be done going forward to prevent the spread of mis- and disinformation.

First, I consider potential legislative solutions. Specifically, I advocate for legislation that creates more transparency around the use of bots and political advertising online. I bring new solutions to the table and build off existing legislative proposals. Second, I highlight how victims of mis- and disinformation can use the law of defamation to discourage bad actors from spreading lies. Third, I explore technology solutions that can both be deployed by startups and tech giants to prevent mis- and disinformation from spreading in the digital ecosystem. Fourth, I explore a new threat posed by Russian funded news channel RT and how it is quietly increasing its ability to spread content via U.S. media outlets with a subsidiary in disguise. 

Finally, I explain the relationship between the fake news problem and issues of data privacy in the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that affected 87 million users. I look at what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony on Capitol Hill reveals both about the problems we face and the solutions that lie ahead. I also explain the privacy questions that should have been asked by U.S. leaders during Zuckerberg’s testimony and what issues should really capture legislators’ attention in an emerging data monetization market. 

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Cohen, Howard. “Tech Tock....” Paper, May 2018.

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