February 12, 2020

The Dangers of Manipulated Media in the Midst of a Crisis

By Megan Lamberth

In the immediate aftermath of the U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, the internet was flooded with purportedly real-time information about the circumstances surrounding the attack and possible Iranian retaliation. The event played out on social media as one would expect. On Twitter, thousands of users claimed access to facts on the ground. In one instance, a Twitter user tweeted out a photo, alleging that an Iranian missile struck Iraq’s Ain al-Asad air base. The tweet spread rapidly. Eventually, reputable news sources stepped in and debunked the story—revealing that the tweeted image was from an entirely separate incident months earlier.

It is in these moments of crisis and uncertainty that disinformation can gain a remarkable foothold and a piece of manipulated media could spark mass panic. The escalating tension between the United States and Iran, showcased in real time on social media, is a stark reminder that manipulated media—photos, video, or audio that have been edited, distorted, or misappropriated—have the capacity to incite violence, disrupt elections, and harm diplomatic relations.

Lawmakers, social media companies, research labs, and technology experts are working to address the proliferation of manipulated media, but these efforts have so far been insufficient. For real progress to be made, social media companies must play a greater role in limiting the harmful effects of manipulated media. Also, policymakers, tech companies, and researchers need to cooperate to ensure that today’s digital environment is safeguarded against malicious actors looking to sow disinformation, while also protecting the rights of Americans online.

Read the full article from the Council on Foreign Relations' Net Politics blog.

  • Transcript
    • June 4, 2020
    Transcript from Russian Advances in Military Automation and AI

    On Thursday, June 4, the CNAS Technology and National Security Program hosted a virtual discussion on Russian advances in military automation and AI featuring Samuel Bendett, ...

    By Samuel Bendett & Martijn Rasser

  • Commentary
    • Texas National Security Review
    • June 2, 2020
    The Militarization of Artificial Intelligence

    Militaries are racing to adopt artificial intelligence (AI) with the aim of gaining military advantage over competitors. And yet, there is little understanding of AI’s long-te...

    By Paul Scharre

  • Transcript
    • May 20, 2020
    Transcript from Emerging Concepts in Joint Command and Control

    On Wednesday, May 20, 2020, the CNAS Technology and National Security Program hosted a virtual panel discussion on emerging concepts in joint command and control featuring Hon...

    By Robert O. Work, Chris Dougherty & Paul Scharre

  • Commentary
    • Wired
    • May 19, 2020
    Are AI-Powered Killer Robots Inevitable?

    In war, speed kills. The soldier who is a split second quicker on the draw may walk away from a firefight unscathed; the ship that sinks an enemy vessel first may spare i...

    By Paul Scharre

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia