Tech Companies Need to Be Held Accountable for Disinformation, Experts Say

Tech and media companies need to take responsibility for the continued spread of the misinformation and disinformation that has left many Americans elements of what the truth actually is, a trio of experts said Thursday.

Speaking at the closing session of the RSA Conference in San Francisco, three co-chairs of the Aspen Institute’s Commission on Information Disorder said people are increasing turning to social media to get their news. While platforms like Twitter and Facebook are home to legitimate news sources, they’ve also allowed lies and conspiracy theories to spread unchecked and shape the opinions of those who are often unwittingly exposed to them.

The commission, which included more than a dozen experts from a variety of fields, issued a report in November that included a set of recommendations for addressing the crisis by doing things like holding companies accountable for spreading disinformation, investing in local media and giving consumers greater visibility into where their news is coming from.

Chris Krebs, former director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said some of the recommendations have been adopted in the months since, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a rocky road,” he told the crowd of thousands of cybersecurity professionals. “We’re not going to fix this problem tomorrow.”

Thursday’s panel discussion also included fellow commission co-chairs Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights group Color of Changeand longtime Today show host Katie Couric.

Robinson said the spread of misinformation and disinformation is of particular concern for people of color, who are often targeted with it by those looking to boost racial divisions for their own gain. He urged the crowd to make their views known to policy makers and to hold tech companies accountable for their actions.

“We will lose in the back rooms if people aren’t lined up at the front door,” Robinson said.

Couric, who now runs her own media companysaid it’s also up to consumers to be critical of information and consider its source. That includes kids, who need to be taught media literacy starting in elementary school, she said.

The increasing sophistication of disinformation campaigns, which have started to include “deepfake” videos that can make it look like someone is doing or saying something that they’re not, make that tough.

Meanwhile, Americans are being exposed to lies from people they should be able to trust, she said, noting that numerous Republicans running in state races this year support former President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the 2020 election was stolen.

“Consumers need to be as discriminating about the content that they’re reading as they are about what they feed their kids,” Couric said. “And the problem is, that’s a lot of onus to put on the consumer.”