NJ opens 'disinformation portal' to fight deepfakes. Here's how to tell fact from fiction – NorthJersey.com


New Jersey unveiled a new “disinformation portal” last week, hoping to help citizens fend off a torrent of falsehoods and deepfake videos that officials say are increasing “exponentially.” 
The website offers tips for spotting deceptive information and links to fact-checking resources from the State Department, the FBI and other sources. 
The problem has gotten noticeably worse just in the last few weeks as perpetrators try to promote Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Laurie Doran, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, said in an interview. 
“Disinformation has been around forever. It’s just been in various forms. Right now we’re in the internet era and it’s grown exponentially,” said Doran, whose office runs the portal at njhomelandsecurity.gov/disinformation.
One fake video widely circulated last month showed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appearing to tell citizens to surrender to Russia. The video even appeared on a prominent Ukrainian news network that had been hacked.
The tactic is used by bad actors to incite panic, stir distrust in government and stoke divisions, the Homeland Security office warns. Agencies don’t have the means or resources to fully track or dispel the onslaught on their own. So they’re hoping to educate the public on how to separate accurate reports from the fake or questionable.
Corrupt content is not only growing quickly; it’s also getting more sophisticated, Doran said. High-level groups and individuals are using faked news, posts, images and videos to promote national or corporate interests and to fuel war, as seen in Ukraine.
Deepfakes are images, videos or audio recordings manipulated to show people saying or doing things they did not actually say or do. Politicians, celebrities and CEOs have been targets of such videos, and advancements in technology mean they appear more realistic than ever. 
Sometimes, the content comes in the form of pranks or entertainment. But it has also been used to extort people and to promote a political or military agenda.
Here’s how to spot an altered video, according to the state agency:
People or groups that spread disinformation do so with the intent to deceive, while misinformation refers to media and posts that are shared without knowing the material is false. Both can cause harm and distort public opinion, Doran said. False information played a role in the COVID-19 crisis and the 2020 election, she added.
Much of this deceptive content is coming from China, Russia and Iran, as well as foreign extremist groups. All are trying to leverage international crises and high-profile incidents to sow discord in the U.S., Doran said.
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According to the agency, red flags for social media accounts include:
The agency’s advice for media consumers: Consider the source or creator of information and ask what their motives may be. Consumers should check their own biases and consider whether their beliefs affect their view of information. Identify original sources of a post or story to check for accuracy.
Some people may share false content because they want to believe what they’ve seen, often because it supports their own personal bias or point of view. The state agency is promoting its findings and tools on disinformation in the hope that people will think twice before they post or share.
“We can’t control people’s biases or what they want to think,” Doran said. “We can’t make people go look it up. But we are trying to provide a resource and give them tips on how to perhaps go check things and see if they are getting the most accurate information. Ultimately this is a public service to help people who have a question mark or two on information.”
With no end in sight to the problem, some advocacy groups and lawmakers are focused on helping people from a young age learn how to find reliable information online and spot what is false.
In New Jersey, state lawmakers are considering a bill that calls for K-12 lessons on how to evaluate information critically. A new curriculum would train students in how to recognize primary and secondary information and distinguish among facts, points of view and opinions.
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Introduced in January, the bill, S-588, has been referred to the Senate Education Committee.
Olga Polites, chapter leader for Media Literacy Now, a national organization that is advocating for the bill, said state social studies standards include media literacy, but the subject is not being widely taught due to the lack of a curriculum and teacher training.
The lessons would bolster new civics education instruction – required in middle schools since September – that focuses on citizens’ rights and responsibilities, said Polites, an English teacher at Lenape Regional High School District. The hope, said Polites, is that the skills carry into adulthood.
“Civics is the endgame, but you won’t have tools to do that unless you learn these various skills,” Polites said.
Additional resources for spotting fake news and videos:
Freedom Forum Institute – Quick Guide to Spotting Fake News  
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions – How to Spot Fake News
Norton – How to Spot Deepfake Videos
Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, bias and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
Email: adely@northjersey.com 
Twitter: @adelyreporter 


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