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SXSW Sydney: The algorithm, deepfakes and the shift to opinion led news

Deciphering the news has become something of a difficult task in an increasingly saturated news landscape, punctuated by the influence of algorithmic filter bubbles, fake news, and increasingly polarisation online and off.

The hefty topic of truth and influence in our media is one that Hill+Knowlton Strategies attempted to tackle in a panel session held at its WPP House at SXSW Sydney on Thursday.

The panel, moderated by WPP AUNZ CEO Rose Herceg, featured a cross section of the new media landscape, with journalists Jim Carroll and Cat McGinn, TikTok Australia country policy manager, trust and safety, Jed Horner, and social trend researcher at 89 Degrees East, Rebecca Huntley.

Carroll pointed to the “shift to opinion as news” over the last 15 years as a major issue threatening the news industry, as it becomes more difficult for audiences to delineate between fact, fiction and everything in between.

“A lot of these opinion writers are informed, but they’re not experts, and there’s plenty of dangerous ancillary content that you see in between – as is evident in the US,” he said. “But, the reality is, it’s much cheaper than actually making real news.”

With current future threats to our news landscape in question, the panel’s attention quickly turned to the advent of AI and AR driven technologies, which bring with them the ability to warp the visuals that journalisms relies on to verify its stories.

“I think it’s fair to say that as of now, you cannot believe your eyes, you should not believe your eyes,” said McGinn, referring to the growing use of deepfakes online. Earlier this year, the weight of the issue was proven when deepfake images of an explosion at US pentagon circulated quickly on Twitter, causing a brief dip in the US stock market.

As polarisation thrives and audiences are inundated with multiple and competing truths in their media diet, Huntley said humans are able to “choose our own adventure” when it comes to the information they seek.

With a deep yearning to feel belonging, Huntley explained that audiences are most likely to seek out information that validates their existing worldview – and thanks to ‘the algorithm’, it’s getting easier to avoid information that contradicts it.

“How do you remain open and curious?” asked Huntley. “Do we have a system, a culture, society, an education system that tools us up to be able to work out what [the information served up by the algorithm] means?”

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