The Age of AI: How is Information Being Weaponised Globally?

Sofie Farhadi Berthelsen
April 10, 2024

The era of disinformation, social media, and propaganda

Disinformation is the deliberate spreading of false information – unlike propaganda which is the spreading of information to further an agenda. After Donald Trump began his campaign to become President in 2016 the discourse around what is false and true has become a global subject. With the “fake-news” agenda Trump pushed before, during, and after his presidency, combined with social media growth, Elon Musk buying Twitter (X), and the popularity of AI, disinformation has never been more apparent. So - how is all this affecting the global information landscape? 

How AI changed the game of disinformation globally

Last year buzzed with the launches of various generative AIs (GenAI) such as language-generated AI’s like Claude, Azure and the most popular OpenAI ChatGPT. These platforms have made it easy to generate information quickly, translating  a variety of languages with just a few clicks. But with all of the great possibilities AI has, it all has a dark side.GenAI is being misused to produce fast, easy, and often well written material in order to push disinformation and propaganda. Misinformation is another issue resulting from GenAI, especially Chatbots such as Bing and Chatgpt. Even though their results often are well-written they are known to bend the truth or spin fictional results to prompts, making them unreliable. If the user does not fact check the results, one can easily share misinformation unintentionally. 

In 2023 alone, Artificial Intelligence-generated news articles increased by more than 1000%, making the spread of either disinformation or misinformation at high risk. 

The dangerous combination of illiteracy and fake news 

It is not only the language generative AI’s that are being used to spread false information. 500,000 deep-fake videos appeared on social media in 2023 - and they are getting better and better. There are also entire websites that distort the news landscape. 614 AI-generated news and information websites in15 languages were detected in 2023. The Pandemic increased the number of people lacking basic literacy skills from 52% to 64%. Illiteracy makes it difficult to distinguish between false and true information and to approach what one reads critically. With a huge number of people unable to differentiate between what is true and false, it is extremely concerning that  over half of news consumers globally were exposed to fake news on Television last year..

The most active social media users are the Danish youth 

Denmark is the country in the EU with the most people on social media, making it no surprise that 100% of 16 to 19-year-olds use at least five different platforms. Social media is ahot spot for disinformation and false information, with algorithms pushing content without many restrictions.  58% of the youth between 16 and 24 of age read or watch their news on social media, forcing children and young people to constantly question everything they read or watch online. 8 out of ten children between 12 and 17 report that they have consumed something online that they first believed to be true, only to find out later it was not, making the percentage of children who reflect on the credibility of what they see online 78%. Less than half of the children who are unsure if something is trustworthy will run it by a friend. It is a huge issue and a threat to both our democracy and people’s trust in the information they receive – not only to social media but also the established media houses.

The U.S. is the hotspot for fake news and disinformation  

It is election year in the U.S, and with Trump as the front runner, misinformation, disinformation, and conspiracy theories are flourishing in both the U.S. media and on social media. This is the first U.S. election with AI, and fast and false language-generated content, deep fake videos and AI picture manipulation have been spreading on social media. A statistic from 2019 shows that 67% of the American population find it “confusing” to manage fake news. The trust in national news has fallen by 15% from 2016 to 2022 and in 2022 42% of adults Americans claim to “worry a lot” about the truth of what they read in the news. Several media outlets call it “the misinformation era”, and disinformation poses a concerning threat to U.S. democracy.

A deepfaked Biden and election chaos with AI

During the primary election this January, citizens in New Hampshire received a deepfake robocall from President Biden, telling them not to vote. The AI-generated voice sounded exactly like the President’s but was the first structured attempt to interfere with the election created by two companies in Texas. As a growing number of Americans distrust the government, news media and a presidential candidate like Donald Trump claiming he wants to be “a dictator for a day” the biggest western democracy is at a tipping point. 

Propaganda and troll-farms are Russia’s greatest weapons 

Russia has mastered the use of social media for spreading disinformation and propaganda and was ranked 164 out of 180 for increase of propaganda in 2023. Abroad, Russia is pushing disinformation through social media where TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, X, and Telegram are among the platforms used, as well as 469 fake domains made by the Russian government. These domains were consistently publishing pro-Russian false information and propaganda about the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2023.On TikTok alone, more than 12.000 fake accounts were deleted in 2023 to prevent the spreading of pro-Russia propaganda and disinformation. The fake accounts were created to look as if they were from Germany, France, Poland, Israel, and Ukraine. 

The bordering countries to Russia are also heavily affected by the invasion of Ukraine and the intensified use of propaganda and disinformation. By March 2023 Russian troll-farms pushed more than 1.300 texts and 37.000 comments of disinformation in favor to Russia’s political stand in the war each week using a combination of language-generated AI, deep-fakes, and picture-manipulation shared through social media with effective and dangerous outcomes.

Disinformation in India 

The U.S. is not the only country facing a difficult presidential election this year.India is in the midst of the country’s biggest election in history with nearly 950 million people expected to vote. India has the sixth cheapest internet cost in the world, and In 2022 about two-thirds of India’s population were using a smartphone - estimated to increase to one billion smartphone users by 2026. India is very much online - the 2019 election was even called the “WhatsApp election” due to the heavy use of the app during election time. Even though people consider in-person campaigning to be the most important form, politicians lean more and more on social media. Social media use for campaigns will also certainly be disrupted by AI and disinformation. The risk of dis- and misinformation is ranked the highest in India and even comes before risks such as infectious diseases, illicit economic activity, inequality, and labour shortages. 

Africa is the battleground to expand mis and disinformation 

Countries in Africa face several struggles when it comes to fighting the increase of disinformation and propaganda, with over 84 large scale disinformation campaigns documented in recent years. Even though only 40% of Africans have access to the internet and 60-70 of those users are men, over 400 million are active. African social media users face several challenges as terror organisations such as Isil, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram are scouting and recruiting members through social media. As men are the primary group on social media, it makes it easier for terror organisations to specify their recruitment. Furthermore, language generative AI makes it easy to recruit transcontinental languages. Another challenge Africa faces with disinformation and propaganda is second party countries interfering. Russia and China account for approximately 60% of disinformation campaigns in Africa. Additionally, Russia regularly interferes in local elections by supporting military juntas and by fashioning elaborate anti-western propaganda.

Limits of journalists in The Middle East create space for disinformation 

The Middle East and North Africa are considered the most dangerous regions for journalists to work, as limited press freedom, imprisonments, killings, and disappearances of journalists makes it difficult to get proper news out. In a statistic with over 180 countries, Syria is ranked 175, Saudi Arabia as 170, Yemen as 168, Iraq as 167, and Egypt as 166 for most dangerous regions for journalists to work. Arabic was the 15th most used language online in 2023, making the region a large part of social media. The Middle East faces similar issues to Africa with AI-generated disinformation and propaganda. The lack of journalistic work from the region creates a gap in the news stream which is easily filled with disinformation, misinformation and propaganda.

The use of AI can easily manipulate us and make us question everything - even the truth. This makes having trustworthy news outlets and an informed society even more essential. With the boundless capabilities of AI generated content, we need to find the balance between using it to our advantage while also improving media literacy - especially among young people. This makes the work of The Why Foundation even more crucial today, as we aim to uphold a trustworthy and factual distribution of news through our many documentaries from all around the world.

What’s a Rich Text element?

The rich text element allows you to create and format headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, images, and video all in one place instead of having to add and format them individually. Just double-click and easily create content.

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing

Static and dynamic content editing
Static and dynamic content editing

A rich text element can be used with static or dynamic content. For static content, just drop it into any page and begin editing. For dynamic content, add a rich text field to any collection and then connect a rich text element to that field in the settings panel. Voila!

How to customize formatting for each rich text

Headings, paragraphs, blockquotes, figures, images, and figure captions can all be styled after a class is added to the rich text element using the "When inside of" nested selector system.

More news

More news