On March 9th 2019, at the South by Southwest Conference (SXSW) in Austin (TX), the SOMA observatory co-organized, the session “AI: The silver Bullet against disinformation?” . The session was hosted in cooperation with the EU Delegation in US at the European house. SOMA partners, Mr. Gianni Riotta from LUISS Data Lab/Princeton University as panel speaker, and Andrea Nicolai, of T6 Ecosystems, attended the event.
SXSW is the leading conference and festival in the United States devoted to the convergence of the music, film, and digital industries. Given the sustained attendance of digital industry and policy officials, the EU Delegation participates at SXSW to engage stakeholders on issues of importance to the EU and foster closer transatlantic collaboration.
More than 100 persons attended the session on Disinformation and witnessed a lively final Q&A, with the panel participants discussing how Artificial Intelligence (AI) could help to detect, identify, and maybe even take down disinformation.
Invited speakers were:
- Giuseppe Abbamonte, Director of Media Policy, European Commission
- Gianni Riotta, Visiting Professor/Journalist, Princeton University (Member of the EU High Level Expert Group on Disinformation and SOMA partner)
- Shaarik Zafar, Public Policy Manager, Facebook
- Annie Klomhaus, New Knowledge and Data for Democracy (Moderator)
In particular, the panel focused on the action plan that the European Commission launched in September 2018 regarding tackling disinformation along with the strategic dialogue with fact checkers and platforms. The EU has been examining how AI can be leveraged to tackle disinformation, including with the creation of a High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence and the launch of a specialized observatory on disinformation (SOMA).
Mr. Abbamonte described the importance of the Code of Practice, issued by the EU and signed by all key platforms – ‘This is indeed the first time worldwide that industry agrees on a voluntary basis to self-regulatory standards to fight disinformation; a very first attempt to have common shared set of values and there’s no equivalent worldwide’. Among the most important commitments of the code of practice still there’s the need to reach an agreement on an elevated, privacy-aware, access to platform data for academic research purposes. In particular Facebook needs to cooperate with fact checkers and the research community across the whole EU.
Mr. Riotta noted as “crucial” the need of rebuilding trust in a larger community, or at least a guarded, initial trust not paralyzed by skepticism as the best weapon against fake news. «If we want to fight disinformation– stated Mr. Riotta – we have to weight truth against false as it they were equal, and then present the arguments for truth in a serene, convincing, tone, because the fight against disinformation is, in conclusion, a fight for truth. This is a very difficult task in an age distrustful of truth, with many academic sources ready to vouch there is no such thing as “truth” ». Mr. Riotta furthermore underlined that disinformation is a weaponized attack to harm hard democracies
The activities and scope of the Observatory received strong attention from the audience and were greeted as a fundamental and first coordinated move to tackle disinformation on a more global level.