Washington is launching the “Ukraine Content Aggregator,” an artificial intelligence program designed to detect so-called Russian disinformation online. Secretary of State Antony Blinken unveiled the project at the Freedom House 2023 Annual Awards Ceremony last week.
“Russia continues to push a steady, relentless stream of disinformation about its war of aggression against Ukraine, to lie about and cover up horrific abuses it’s committed, to try to justify committing others,” Blinken said at the Freedom House event. “In response, the State Department has developed an AI-enabled online Ukraine Content Aggregator to collect verifiable Russian disinformation and then to share that with partners around the world.”
The top diplomat added that the government would be “promoting independent media and digital literacy,“ as well as “working with partners in academia to reliably detect fake text generated by Russian chatbots.”
It is unclear with which partners the State Department plans to share the AI-marked posts, and officials have yet to elaborate on what kind of “fake text“ the program would target. Journalist Matt Taibbi has documented the deep ties between social media sites and the US federal government in his “Twitter Files” reporting, which cited a large trove of internal company documents showing how the platform suppressed or boosted content based on requests from officials.
The prevailing mainstream narrative about supposed Russian disinformation polluting American politics arose as a part of the debunked theory that social media posts by a Kremlin-backed ‘troll farm’ handed Donald Trump his 2016 election win.
In subsequent reporting, investigative journalist Gareth Porter found “the Russian private sector effort accounted for a minuscule proportion of the election-related output of social media,“ noting that “the threat to the US political system in general and its electoral system, in particular, is not Russian influence.”
Additionally, a study conducted last year by Graphika and the Stanford Internet Observatory suggested that the social media landscape is teeming with Washington’s own disinformation. The researchers uncovered a “series of covert campaigns” that pushed pro-Western misinformation on Twitter, Facebook and five other social media platforms over a period of nearly five years.
Still, the US government has repeatedly invoked the supposed threat of “Russian disinformation” as it seeks greater power to control what is shared on the internet. In 2022, the Joe Biden administration attempted to create a “Disinformation Governance Board” under the Department of Homeland Security that was to be headed by Nina Jankowicz, a so-called “disinformation expert.” However, Jankowicz later resigned from the DHS amid vocal public backlash to what was widely condemned as a Orwellian ‘Ministry of Truth,’ with the new office ultimately scrapped.
Apparently seeing no irony in his comments, during his Freedom House speech Blinken went on to warn that AI “runs the risk of strengthening autocratic governments, including by enabling them to exploit social media even more effectively to manipulate their people and sow division among and within their adversaries.”