Steven Brill mourns the death of truth—and plans to revive it

When co-founder NewsGuard in 2018, Steven Brill recalls, “We thought we were right in the middle of this storm of misinformation.” But that was before the 2020 election, the COVID pandemic, January 6, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Israel-Hamas war and another presidential race underway in a deeply polarized America . “We were really calm before the storm even though we thought it was a storm,” Brill told me in an interview. “And with innovative AI, it will only get much worse before it gets better.”

It may feel like a grim time trying to live in a fact-based world, when bogus and conspiratorial claims run freely on the internet and social media, a topic that Brill explores in her new book, The death of truth. Brill, a veteran journalist and businessman-he debuted American Attorney, Brill Content, and Court TV—diagnosing the information epidemic of our time, and offering solutions, from reform Section 230law that protects internet companies from liability for content on their platforms, for sue social media companies for violating their own terms of service, to refrain Programmatic advertising, where the algorithm places ads automatically based on user demographic data. The consequence of such advertising is that big brands may unintentionally help those who provide false information. (One of the services offered by NewsGuard, along with providing credibility ratings for news outlets, addresses the problem of programmatic advertising.)

In a riveting Vanity fair Excerpt published this week, Brill told His work at NewsGuard made him a target John Dougan—an American, as The New York Times reported last week, spread false information from Russia, where he received asylum—and House Republicans, led by Rep Jim Jordan. “We basically got an email from President Jordan accusing us of the same thing that Dougan accused us of, which is that we are cowards toward the deep state,” Brill said. “The irony doesn’t affect me at all. It’s a tragic comedy but not funny at all.”

“Basically, their priority is to erase the notion that there really is truth in the world, that there really is truth,” Brill added. “What The death of truth It’s really about the notion that everything has become a matter of perspective.”

In an interview, edited for length and clarity, Brill discusses his motivation for the book, how AI is accelerating the disinformation crisis, and where he sees some hope for the media.

Vanity Fair: I want to start with your motivation for the book. You wrote, “If we can understand how the truth has been hidden, we can find a way to restore it.” For me, that kind of captured it.

Steven Brill: Exactly. I’ve lived in this world, you know, and what I started thinking about, a year and a half ago, was that all these forces seemed to combine into a perfect storm…. The combination of social media and algorithms [programmatic advertising], unwittingly funding all of this. Together, they created an ecosystem where no one believes in anything. You go online and if you’re a normal person, you don’t know what to believe. I want to dissect how that happened, explain its ramifications, but also explain what we can do about it.

In the process, I realized that it’s an even bigger problem than I thought, and there are some actors like the Russians who are much more serious about it and much more progressive about it. this issue, and more on this issue. how to use this as a way to actually upset the global order more than I realized.

You have been seriously observing our information ecosystem for a long time, establishing a media watchdog, [Brill’s Content], as well as an organization, NewsGuard. Even since 2018 — that was before the misinformation/disinformation surrounding COVID, “Stop the Steal,” the Ukraine-Russia war — it seems like things are only accelerating. But what is your experience?

That’s absolutely right. When we founded NewsGuard, in 2018, we thought we were in the middle of this misinformation storm, but that was before COVID, before “Stop the Theft,” before misinformation about vaccines, before January 6, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, before the Israel-Hamas war, and before the current election. So we really were the calm before the storm, even though we thought it was a storm. And with innovative AI, it will only get much worse before it gets better.

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