Scoop: AP turns to robo reporters to fight fake news

AI could help journalists gather data and verify facts. (Reuters)
Updated 17 April 2018
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Scoop: AP turns to robo reporters to fight fake news

Dubai: Robots are being rolled out to perform tasks once the preserve of humans across many industries — but they have not yet made a big impact on the newsroom. That may be about to change, as Raneem Hannoush discovered when she spoke to the AP’s Lisa Gibbs
Can artificial intelligence help to combat fake news?
There are tools that can be used to write story templates that then can be generated at a very high volume based on data. This kind of technology can be used by reputable news organizations to turn out basic stories on sports games or the weather or financial data, for example, but certainly, people who create fake news can also use the same story generating tool.
There’s other technology that I think that people are more worried about that can now take a series of images and put them together in ways that can create new fake images. Given how powerful the image is, there is a lot of concern that you will not be able to tell the real image from the fake one. We are working to build a tool that verifies posts on social media.
Have technological advances made fake news more serious?
The power of social media platforms today allows news to be shared very rapidly and you can see how something that is not true can spread so quickly, so I think that is one of the reasons why the problem seems bigger than it would have years ago. At the same time the technology does give new weapons to people who are interested in fraud to create news that mimics the ‘real thing.’ On the other hand, there has been a lot of discussion on how automation can help fact check and verify stories. Imagine reading a story on a website, and while you are reading you can see pop up information about the sources related to the story that prove that the data cited is accurate and comes from the source.
What does the “AP Verify” tool do?
It is a tool that we are building to help us vet social media posts faster. We are currently developing and testing it at our London office. It is being (supported) in part by a fund coming from the “Google News Initiative” in Europe. We are getting the support of a giant technology company to help us make the investment in technology that we need to experiment and develop a tool that is good enough. The media industry does not always have the resources it needs for innovation. Technology has always changed. In journalism, a hundred years ago it meant using a pen and paper and using a telephone to call reports in, and then things developed. Each era witnesses some disruptive technological change, but editorial standards must remain the same.
What’s in it for Google?
Google has decided that it wants to support high-quality journalism. It wants to support innovation in media. They have created funds to help pursue those types of projects. I think Google, and even Facebook and Twitter are recognizing that their platforms have done great things for being able to share news (high and low quality), but they are also aware that our industry has gone through disruption in terms of our financial sustainability.
Will you share it with other news organizations?
We currently have a lot of journalists devoted to verifying and finding social media posts from eyewitnesses to events, because it helps us tell the story and get the news out there. We do distribute to other media outlets as well. Building AP Verify is a 2018 project, so we are not there yet. Therefore, we are still not sure how successful it is going to be, and how long it will require to develop a useful tool. There are many questions that we do not have answers to yet, but I do think that there is a goal around helping other media adopt those tools and practices.
Will the tool be able to read Arabic?
I am guessing that we are focusing for now on building the tool for English. I would think that we would look to adapt it for other languages quickly after that. Metadata that is in an image like date and time are universal, so there are a lot of things that can be done irrespective of language. Arabic is a very important language to AP. It has two foreign language translation desks, one is Spanish and the other is Arabic.
Will AI eventually make us journalists redundant?
We (the AP) have eliminated zero jobs as a result of our work with automation and AI and the way we approach it is that this technology is aimed at making our journalists more efficient and about removing the basic low-level jobs that people do not necessarily want to be doing anyway. We want our journalists who have expertise and skills to be doing things that matter, like telling human interest stories, doing investigative work, using the skills that they have in the best way possible. We do not want journalists sitting there in front of the computer like robots, turning out very basic simple stories about the weather or financial data or last night’s sports score. These stories lose value quite quickly in the Internet world. We see that journalists should work on stories that have an impact and last.


The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

Many things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country. (AFP)
Updated 19 December 2018
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The role of social media in solving — and committing — crimes

  • The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography
  • The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it

JEDDAH: Many Saudi citizens are increasingly using social media as an alternative source of news, rather than local media organizations, which are subject to strict censorship and controls regarding content.
There is no doubt that as the use of social networks has increased, so too has the number of people subjected to abuse, threats, discrimination and defamation online. In some cases people, groups or organizations are deliberately and systematically targeted to achieve a specific goal.
Dealing with such abuse on social media is an organizational matter that often requires some form of censorship. There is a fine line between the right of an individual to create and publish a video on social media in which they can express their personal opinions and, for example, the right to publish recorded footage of a crime taking place.
Many questions were raised, for example, by a recent incident involving the kidnapping of a Saudi teenage girl in Riyadh, footage of which was posted on an Instagram live stream. The video quickly went viral, though it was soon deleted.
The posting of such footage of criminal acts is considered a crime and exploitation in the Kingdom. Many other things are forbidden when using social media in Saudi Arabia, including stirring up tensions and causing division among citizens, encouraging criminality, or publishing anything might harm public affairs in the country.
If any person, group or organization feels that they have been subjected to online abuse they can report it to the authorities who will examine the digital evidence, including any video footage.
Abdulrazzak Murjan, an expert in digital evidence and a member of the American Academy of Forensic Medicine, said that rulings by the Supreme Court set out the procedures for dealing with such allegations, and how digital evidence can be used.
“Videos are one type of digital evidence and can be taken as a pretext, when they are free of editing, to prove the charge in the...courts,” he said.
The laws governing information crimes, which involve use of electronic devices to commit a crime, prohibit “producing material that violates public order, religious values, public morals or the inviolability of private life, preparing it, sending it or storing it through a network or a computer.”
While electronic devices and social media can legitimately be used as sources of digital evidence to prove criminal activity, the misuse of such content by publishing it online is itself considered a cybercrime. It is, therefore important to know what to do should you come into possession of such sensitive material.
The obvious first step is to contact the police and hand over the devices containing the digital evidence. Specialist officers will copy the data, analyze it and evaluate it. If appropriate, the evidence will be submitted to the attorney general for further assessment, and then to the court during a trial.
While the misuse of social media in the ways described above can be a criminal act, cybercrime is a more general description for any crime committed using a computer and network, such as hacking, blackmail and cyberbullying. The victims can range from individuals and organizations all the way up to governments. In Saudi Arabia many measures are being taken and constant work is being done to protect people from such attacks.
“In terms of the nature of crimes committed through social media, they fall under the laws related to cybercrimes,” said Budur Al-Sharif, a lawyer. “They are associated with the criminal law, under which fall the cybercrime laws issued by the Communications and Information Technology Commission.
“Saudi criminal law includes many regulations related to addressing cybercrimes in terms of the type of crime, its meticulous peculiarity, its methods and the extent of the punishment imposed according to that law. The punishment for the perpetrators of these crimes can be as high as 10 years in jail or a fine of SR5 million ($1.3 million).”
Lawyer Dimah Al-Sharif called for action to make social media safer for everyone, and to raise awareness of other people’s rights and the consequences of misuse.
“I believe that establishing official and verified accounts controlled by the Ministry of Interior would help to make reports more credible and trustworthy, and reduce false reports. Moreover, awareness is needed among teenagers and minors to make it easier for them to differentiate between their freedoms and other people’s privacy.”
The battle against cybercrime in the Kingdom is likely to escalate as technology becomes more sophisticated, and there are already heavy penalties for crimes such hacking, identity theft, hate speech and pornography.
“We are facing increased hate speech and discrimination and measures have been taken to curb it,” said Muna Abu Sulaiman, a social media personality and expert. “However, enforcement lags behind and involves too many different ministries and authorities. My suggestion is that we develop a law enforcement unit that deals only with cybercrimes relating to hate speech.
“When crimes go beyond social media into the real world, and social media is used only to document them, law enforcement is fast to respond. We have seen several cases where within hours crimes were solved and criminals apprehended.”