Spain's regional elections are still nearly four months away, but Irene Larraz and her team at Newtral are already braced for impact. Each morning, half of Larraz's team at the Madrid-based media company sets a schedule of political speeches and debates, preparing to fact-check politicians' statements. The other half, which debunks disinformation, scans the web for viral falsehoods and works to infiltrate groups spreading lies. Once the May elections are out of the way, a national election has to be called before the end of the year, which will likely prompt a rush of online falsehoods. "It's going to be quite hard," Larraz says. "We are already getting prepared."
The proliferation of online misinformation and propaganda has meant an uphill battle for fact-checkers worldwide, who have to sift through and verify vast quantities of information during complex or fast-moving situations, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Covid-19 pandemic, or election campaigns. That task has become even harder with the advent of chatbots using large language models, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT, which can produce natural-sounding text at the click of a button, essentially automating the production of misinformation.
Faced with this asymmetry, fact-checking organizations are having to build their own AI-driven tools to help automate and accelerate their work. It's far from a complete solution, but fact-checkers hope these new tools will at least keep the gap between them and their adversaries from widening too fast, at a moment when social media companies are scaling back their own moderation operations.
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