Future

From Around The World, 8 Real Ways To Fight Fake News

By 2022, disinformation could completely replace real facts online. So what are we supposed to do about it? Sharp ideas from France to Denmark to the U.S. and beyond.

In Vancouver, real or fake?
In Vancouver, real or fake?
Jacques Henno

PARIS — This video of Barack Obama is both real and not real. It's an excerpt of the former U.S. president during an official appearance, and the words he utters are things he really did say, albeit in an entirely different speech. Researchers at the University of Washington, in Seattle, used artificial intelligence to perfectly sync the movement of Obama's lips in one appearance to the words he used on a previous occasion. Moral of the story? It's now possible to create a "fake" video as perceivably real as the original one.

Gartner, Inc., an American research and advisory firm, estimates that by 2022, people living in developed countries will have more exposure to false information than to real news. Welcome to a world where "the average citizen is no longer in a position to know if a piece of information is serious or not," says David Glance, director of IT practices at the University of Western Australia.

The spread of so-called fake news is as old as politics. "Already, in Athens, the tyrant Peisistratus (6th century BC), former master in the art of fake news, seized power and exercised it thanks to propaganda based on the falsification of Greek literature," notes Patrick Chastenet, a professor of political science at the Montesquieu Research Institute in Bordeaux.

Only these days, the echo chambers of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn give fake news unprecedented power, as do the algorithms they use, which suggest certain content to us based on our browsing history. The lure of profit fuels the plague, since false information, spread on a social platform, costs nothing to produce but directs Internet users back to certain ads.

We know too that certain politicians are prepared to do anything to get elected. And of course, we can't forget that foreign powers sometimes attempt to influence outcomes. All of this gave birth to a system "where emotion takes precedence over facts, which threatens democracy," says Lisa-Maria Neudert, a specialist in propaganda and manipulation at Oxford University in England.

So what do we do?

The question then, is what to do about it. That is precisely what hundreds of researchers all over the world are asking themselves as we speak. Here are some of the solutions currently being studied:

1. Asphyxiate

Fake news prospers in a system based on the economy of attention: It directs Internet users towards ads, meaning the ad creators earn money. To financially asphyxiate these fake operations, some experts imagine moving away from an economic model in which all information is free. But how do we convince Internet users to start paying for quality information? Another, no doubt more realistic, tactic is to put pressure on brands that run ads (most often unknowingly) on fake news websites.

2. Regulate

The United States could require social platforms to become "serious' media. But this poses moral, economic and legal problems. "Is it really up to a social network to filter information? On what criteria and on whose behalf could Facebook decree that a certain publication is fake, satirical, or even politically biased?" asks Romain Badouard, a social sciences researcher and author of the essay "The Disenchantment of the Internet" (FYP Editions).

Another question is how to make social media platforms act in the same way throughout the whole world when certain countries are clearly more progressive than others. Could this verification happen automatically? Or would it be necessary to resort to armies of censors who would no doubt be poorly paid for doing such tedious work?

"With the criteria that it adopted, almost unanimously, to fight against pornography, Facebook demonstrated that it could take an ethical position on a social subject," says Jean Pouly, a digital economics expert at Télécom Saint-Etienne. But at Facebook, which has recently increased its information verification initiatives, employees don't think it's necessary to go much further. "We are a tool at the service of the media," says Edouard Braud, Facebook's director of media partnerships in France and southern Europe. "We work hand in hand with them to improve the spread of their content."

3. Verify

Social networks must be viewed not as media outlets, but as advertising agencies. We can't ask them to be simultaneously judge (filtering content) and interested party (invested in the number of clicks). The validation of information must therefore be entrusted to third parties. Pierre-Albert Ruquier, is cofounder of the Parisian startup Storyzy, a website that verifies quotes. "Thanks to extraction technology for quotations, we are able to spot quotes shared only by pre-identified fake news sites," he explains. "We can detect sites that were previously unknown to our system but that are using those quotes, which is suspicious."

4. Cooperate

The cybersecurity supervisors of Silicon Valley giants exchange information as soon as one of them spots a new hacking threat. Why don't the Big Five (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft) also cooperate when they see a new piece of fake news?, asked Karen Wickre, Twitter's former editorial director, in a recent Wired article.

Closed doors at Facebook? — Photo: Sachin

5. Respond

Stamping a "questionable information" banner on an article published on a social network often produces the opposite of the desired effect. The author of the incriminated publication could call it censorship. Likewise, dismantling all the arguments of a biased piece often only serves to reinforce it. "It's better to simply publish an article that tells the truth, without referring to the fake news in question," Gartner, Inc. advises.

6. Protect

How can we legally protect photos and videos uploaded online? Many authors publish them under the Creative Commons license, which allows others to reuse and modify the images. But, as a result, this prevents the original publisher from pursuing potential forgers. Is a new Creative Commons license necessary to stop images from being used for propaganda?

7. Explain

It's necessary to raise awareness among young people and adults alike about verifying information, but also about the social pressures that exist online. There are mechanisms whose core motivations are still poorly understood. "In a group, each individual can think that the others view positively what he views negatively. The result is that he will act against his own values," says Vincent F. Hendricks, supervisor at the Center for Information and Bubble Studies at the University of Copenhagen.

8. Disappear

If it remains out of control, will fake news kill social networks? "I don't think so, because Internet users use these sites for many things other than information," Hendricks adds. Certainly, though, fake news will eventually force the platforms to change.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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