The Year Of Super Powers, Both Good And Bad

The smartest people I know on the topic of AI-enabling technologies like to describe them as giving people "super powers." You know -- the ability to process things faster, better and in ways humans couldn't otherwise do without them.

That's a nice spin, of course, and rarely do these smart people describe those powers in a negative way, other than the obligatory "of course there can be a downside" reference.

An important big exception to that AI-enablement spin has been news and information veracity ratings service NewsGuard's AI Tracking Center, whose analysts have identified 614 websites portraying themselves as authentic news and information outlets -- up from just 49 when it began tracking them in May.

If 2023 was the year of AI exuberance in the advertising and media industry, NewsGuard's tracking has revealed the potential dark underbelly.



Actually, it has revealed the identifiable dark underbelly, because who knows what other darkness lurks in the hearts of developers and exploiters of the technology

So it's appropriate that as we turn the corner on the year of AI and approach what could be an entirely new epoch in 2024, that the team at NewsGuard has proclaimed 2023 "The Year of Supercharged Misinformation."

The reason?  For all the good -- or at best, benign -- actors racing to leverage AI-enabled media technologies, there are some awfully bad ones NewsGuard has identified that are using it to "create authentic-looking articles, images, audio, videos, and even entire websites to advance false or polarizing narratives meant to sow confusion and distrust."

Importantly, NewsGuard's researchers have found these sites already are disseminating misinformation in 15 languages (Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Turkish), which is compounding information discord globally, as well as domestically.

On the plus side, NewsGuard has also helped the inclusion side of the information ledger, identifying lesser-known trustworthy news and information sites it describes as "unsung heroes," some of which you can read more about below.

A UAIN site owned and operated by a Pakistani journalist that publishes general news apparently generated by artificial intelligence without human oversight and without disclosure to readers. (Note: is classified as an Unreliable AI-generated News Site (UAINS) by NewsGuard. UAINS are flagged by NewsGuard but do not receive Trust Scores.) 

In November, NewsGuard found& nbsp;that the site was the source of a viral false claim that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a psychiatrist who was driven to commit suicide, explaining in a suicide note and unfinished manuscript that he took his own life because his patient was so difficult and irrational. In fact, Netanyahu does not have a psychiatrist, no such psychiatrist died by suicide, and there was no suicide note or unfinished manuscript. The site appeared to have used AI to rewrite a satirical article from 2010 about Netanyahu’s nonexistent psychiatrist. Despite the false claims from beginning to end, this anti-Netanyahu story was spread by Iranian state broadcasting among many others.

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An article on falsely claimed that Netanyahu’s psychiatrist died by suicide. (Screenshot via NewsGuard) (NewsGuard Trust Score 20/100)

In June, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, citing, wrote on X that concertgoers did a “Good job” by booing country star Garth Brooks off-stage at a Texas music festival, presumably over the perception that Brooks is too liberal. However, the incident touted by Abbott never happened, and no such music festival was held. The governor was apparently duped into sharing a “new s” story” by this hoax website. 

Dunning-Kruger Times is part of a network of sites that fabricate stories that are shared as real news, run by hoaxter Christopher Blair, as NewsGuard’s Nutrition Label states. Other stories published by this network have falsely reported the deaths of actor Tom Hanks, Hillary Clinton, and actor Jon Voight.

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Unsung Heroes

Some of the websites and podcasts with high NewsGuard Trust Scores receive little notice, despite producing impactful, fact-based news and analysis. Below is a list of the best news sites and podcasts that you might never have heard of.

Websites: (Trust Score: 92.5/100): An Australian site that is intended to help journalists cover and explain scientific research. Run by the Australian Science Media Centre and the Science Media Centre of New Zealand, it offers boiled-down explanations of research in original articles, a network of experts for journalists to contact, and images that can be used for stories, all for free. (Trust Score: 92.5/100): Headed by a veteran Silicon Valley reporter, the site covers the "intersection of tech and democracy” and issues and technology relevant to social media and tech platforms. The site says it will help users understand “the weird new future: internet culture, mega-platform grotesquerie, crypto conspiracies, deep forum lore, fringe politics, and other artifacts of what's to come.” (Trust Score: 100/100): The site serves as a de facto trust police of scientific journals. It is a blog and database dedicated to chronicling retractions of journal articles. Its mission is “tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process.” It's produced by the Center for Scientific Integrity, a New York City-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit. (Trust Score: 100/100): Based in a town in rural eastern Kentucky, the site covers economic, political, and cultural issues relevant to rural America. Owned by the nonprofit Center for Rural Strategies, it covers housing crises hitting rural college students, tracks COVID-19 infection rates across statements, and lets users know about the issues affecting rural Americans ahead of the 2024 presidential race. (Trust Score: 87.5/100): The site covers the wickedly competitive recruiting of high school athletes, and new college rules on "Name, Image, Likeness" (NIL) that allow outside payments to athletes. It is similar to two strong competitors, Rivals and 247Sports, with typical headlines “Crash Bandicoot, Activision ink six athletes to NIL deals,” “Koren Johnson, 2022 four-star, commits to Washington,” “Meet Azzi Fudd, the next big thing in women’s basketball — and in NIL." If you want to know why a quarterback at Duke leaves for Notre Dame, or a University of Michigan basketball star splits for Kansas, the answer is now simple: follow the money. 

Podcasts (NewsGuard podcast Trust Scores are out of 10):

Advisory Opinions (Trust Score: 10/10): A sharp podcast from two conservative lawyers-turned-political and cultural analysts: David French, a New York Times columnist, and Sarah Isgur, a former Justice Department spokesperson during the Trump administration. The hosts assess legal, cultural, and media developments, and are critical of both the left and right. They even heralded the ACLU, a frequent target for the right, for deciding to defend the National Rifle Association in a free-speech case against the New York Department of Financial Regulation.

Drilled (Trust Score: 10/10): A left-leaning, anti-fossil fuels podcast that offers solid reporting on corporate and political factors that it argues contribute to climate change. It offers multiple viewpoints but tends to rebut critics of climate change, or what it calls “climate accountability.” It's hosted by environmental journalist Amy Westervelt, who has won honors, including an Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting. A typical episode covers the potential environmental impact of deep-sea mining, which has been performed experimentally on deep ocean floors.

Manifest Space with Morgan Brennan (Trust Score: 10/10): A weekly podcast in which the CNBC anchor Morgan Brennan covers the latest happenings in space exploration. Brennan discusses significant issues, such as the use of spy satellites and the militarization of space, and interviews industry leaders.

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