Project Updates

Impacts from the edge of emerging technologies: BBC on Russian disinformation


Every day we see new impacts of these emerging technologies.

See this piece from 9 September 2018 by Joel Gunter and Olga Robinson on BBC News, “Sergei Skripal and the Russian disinformation game”:

The images had identical timestamps. How could two men be in exactly the same place at the same time, a flood of tweets asked.

Speaking on state TV, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed that either “the date and the exact time were superimposed on the image” or that Russian intelligence officers had “mastered the skill of walking simultaneously”.

Her remarks were echoed by pro-Kremlin accounts on Twitter and on the messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Russia. Users suggested the CCTV images had been manipulated. They mocked the British authorities and alleged it was an MI6 operation.
— Joel Gunter & Olga Robinson, BBC News, 9 September 2018

The BBC article illustrates how doubt about the reliability of audio-visual information can cut both ways. While it can inoculate citizens and consumers against susceptibility to disinformation, it can also lead to unnecessary doubt in potentially legitimate communications.

The images have been produced to support written and verbal allegations by Government figures. That is because, in the past, camera images might have been taken to be more reliable than a bare allegation, eye-witness testimony, or other forms of communication. They also create records that can be reviewed in retrospect, “just in case”, as they appear to have been used here.

As Gunter and Robinson point out:

Soon it would not necessarily matter that the background of the CCTV images were not identical; that the camera was at a different angle; that Google Maps shows that the non-return gates at Gatwick are a series of near-identical corridors that the two men could easily have passed down, adjacent to one another, at the same time.
— Joel Gunter & Olga Robinson, BBC News, 9 September 2018

Technologies such as Adobe Photoshop have been with us for a long time and we still rely on images as evidence of the truth of their contents, so perhaps the situation can’t be all that bad.

As for whether these particular CCTV images are reliable in the way that they have been presented, that is now a topic of debate.