Instagram could become a new platform for the sharing of disinformation around the 2020 election because of the way propagandists are relying on images and proxy accounts to create and circulate fake content, leading social intelligence experts tell Axios.
The big picture: "Disinformation is increasingly based on images as opposed to text," said Paul Barrett, the author of an NYU report that's prompted a renewed look at the problem. "Instagram is obviously well-suited for that kind of meme-based activity."
The international industry of disinformation-for-hire services has already reared its head in Western politics, and it's growing fast.
The big picture: There is no U.S. law that prevents candidates, parties or political groups from launching their own disinformation campaigns, either in-house or through a contractor, so long as foreign money isn't involved. It's up to individual candidates to decide their tolerance for the practice.
Despite the sharp alarms being sounded over deepfakes — uncannily realistic AI-generated videos showing real people doing and saying fictional things —security experts believe that the videos ultimately don't offer propagandists much advantage compared to the simpler forms of disinformation they are likely to use.
Why it matters: It’s easy to see how a viral video that appears to show, say, the U.S. president declaring war would cause panic — until, of course, the video was debunked. But deepfakes are not an efficient form of a long-term disinformation campaign.
Since Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) introduced the first short-lived bill to outlaw malicious deepfakes, a handful of members of Congress and several statehouses, have stabbed at the growing threat.
But, but, but: So far, legal and deepfake experts haven't found much to like in these initial attempts, which they say are too broad, too vague or too weak — meaning that, despite all the hoopla over the technology, we're not much closer to protecting against it.
In the first signs of a mounting threat, criminals are starting to use deepfakes — starting with AI-generated audio — to impersonate CEOs and steal millions from companies, which are largely unprepared to combat them.
Why it matters: Nightmare scenarios abound. As deepfakes grow more sophisticated, a convincing forgery could send a company's stock plummeting (or soaring), to extract money or to ruin its reputation in a viral instant.
There is a pitched struggle underway between the makers of fake AI-generated videos and images and forensics experts trying desperately to uncover them. And the detectives are losing.
Why it matters: Their effort is the leading edge in a massive scramble to stave off a potential landscape in which it's impossible to know what's true and what isn't.
As presidential campaigns gather steam, a niche world of consultants and tech vendors has popped up with the promise of helping them fight off online disinformation.
The catch: These efforts have gained little traction, in part because they offer a dizzying array of options at a confounding spread of prices — from around $3,000 to nearly $300,000 a year — potentially leaving campaigns without a weapon against the predicted onslaught.
Facing a widely predicted onslaught of fake political videos before the 2020 election, social media companies are the bulwark that will either keep the videos at bay or allow them to flood the internet.
But, but, but: These platforms are loath to pass judgment on a clip's veracity on their own — an approach experts say could lead to a new election crisis.
Americans view made-up news and information as a bigger problem than other critical issues, including terrorism, immigration, climate change and racism, according to a new survey from Pew Research Center.
Why it matters: The survey finds that Americans feel more worried today about fake news because it's undermining their trust in key institutions, like government and the media.
The 2020 presidential campaigns appear to have done little to prepare for what experts predict could be a flood of fake videos depicting candidates doing or saying something incriminating or embarrassing.
Driving the news: The recent manipulated video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was just a taste of what could lie ahead. Fake video has the potential to sow huge political chaos, and countering it is wildly difficult. And right now, no one can agree who's responsible for countering it.