FRIDAY, April 19, 2024
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AI-driven disinfo in SE Asia highlights need for fact-checking & literacy

AI-driven disinfo in SE Asia highlights need for fact-checking & literacy

Despite efforts from governments to address disinformation, a study concluded that a “multi-faceted approach” is needed, including promoting media literacy and implementing legal and regulatory measures.

As technology gets more sophisticated with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), Southeast Asian nations need to improve their fact-checking abilities and literacy to combat disinformation, a study has found.

In commemoration of International Fact-Checking Day on Apr. 2, the study from Safer Internet Lab, an initiative by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Google, found the rise of disinformation in Southeast Asia runs parallel with ever-developing technology, including AI.

The report, titled Regional and Cross-Border Responses Towards Disinformation in Southeast Asia, presented various examples of “coordinated disinformation campaigns” that have taken place in Indonesia and its neighbouring countries in recent years.

Social media plays a big part in the spread of fake news across Southeast Asia, according to the report. It was apparent during elections in the region as platforms like Facebook, X and TikTok became significant instruments in political campaigns in these countries.

In Indonesia, “buzzers”, or paid political influencers, are well-known actors of such disinformation, while in the Philippines it is commonly “trolls” who spread fake news and influence operations (IOs) in Thailand.

The problem was exacerbated by AI, as the report found that free online tools for basic AI to create computer-generated videos that resemble a person’s likeness, or deepfakes, have become increasingly common.

AI caused a commotion in Indonesia’s 2024 election season when a hyper-realistic video of President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo speaking fluently in Mandarin went viral in late 2023 before it was debunked as an AI edit.

Not long after, an AI-manipulated video of defence minister and presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto delivering a speech in Arabic also made rounds on social media.

Information and Public Communication Director General Usman Kansong of the Communications and Information Ministry said during the report’s launch last Thursday that Indonesia has seen an emerging trend of disinformation from buzzers since the 2019 elections.

The ministry recorded 714 hoaxes that spread from 2018 to 2019. The number decreased this election, with only 204 hoaxes found from January 2023 to January this year.

“However, the forms of disinformation get increasingly diverse, making it more difficult to identify [the hoaxes], not to mention the use of AI [more recently],” Usman said.

Singapore also experienced a similar AI incident last year when a deep-faked video of the city-state’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong advocating a cryptocurrency scheme went viral.

More fact-checkers

Despite efforts from governments in Southeast Asia to address disinformation, the study concluded that a “multi-faceted approach” is needed to tackle disinformation.

The study recommends policies for governments based on an ASEAN Ministers Responsible for Information (AMRI) meeting in September of last year, which include promoting media literacy as well as implementing legal and regulatory measures.

It also suggests that digital platforms bolster their fact-checking abilities and collaborate with outside parties to monitor the content on their platforms.

While several fact-checking organizations have bloomed in some Southeast Asian countries, CSIS researcher Fitriani, who is part of the study, noted the need to make fact-checking “sustainable” in the future as technology continues to develop.

“To what extent is fact-checking effective, and who fact-checks the fact-checker? We need to come up with a solution for these questions,” she said.

Media literacy is also at a dire point since low- and middle-income countries are more prone to disinformation, the report said, as they have relatively lower levels of education and literacy.

Such issues call for collaborative efforts between Southeast Asian countries, as the report found that disinformation “does not recognize borders” and that its campaigns may originate domestically or abroad.

“It is time for Southeast Asian countries to work together and strengthen the trust of the people in the region,” Usman added.

Several countries, like Malaysia, have bolstered their fact-checking websites, digital literacy programs and content supervision with the help of the Malaysia Communications and Multimedia Commission.

The Philippines government has also started integrating media and information literacy as a core subject in the curriculum for primary and secondary schools in 2023.

Radhiyya Indra

The Jakarta Post

Asia News Network

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