Everybody surfs the web at work. For every tab open to GitHub there is at least one open to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, or Reddit. The IT department does its best to keep us from wandering into the seedier parts of the Interwebs. Sites likely to serve up malware, phishing scams, or content that could trigger a complaint to HR are routinely blocked on company machines. These are all reasonable precautions, but they are missing something.
The Internet is a dangerous place and there are bad actors lurking in every domain. The most pervasive and pernicious threat, however, goes blithely unchecked by our security teams. Any sort of conspiracy theory, misinformation, libel or troll can fly through our firewalls at will. We are protecting our servers from attack, but we are leaving our colleagues wide open. It is past time for IT to take an active role in fighting disinformation. Enabling fact-checker extensions in every browser would be a good (and easy) start.
This may seem an odd remit for the IT security team, but bad information can be just as damaging (and more so) than bad software. Consider the recent deluge of misinformation about COVID-19. The US Surgeon General recently declared misinformation “an urgent threat to public health.” This doesn’t just impact “essential workers” and school kids. Misinformation driven vaccine hesitancy (and increasingly vaccine hostility) can bring the virus and all the disruption it entails right into the enterprise. I speak from personal experience having recently lost a close colleague to the pandemic.
A pop-up warning that a news item or website contains dubious or disputed information will not save us from bad information, but it will at least get people thinking. They will need to make a conscious decision to ignore the warning. Hopefully they will instead consider the links and references provided to more reality-based sources. This is basic digital literacy.
IT folks should be among the most digitally literate of professionals. If they are not, IT leadership has a responsibility to become literate and in turn train their staff. At the very least, disinformation detection browser extensions will raise awareness and prepare the corporate culture to become more resilient to pervasive “truth decay”.
As a bonus, most of these plug-ins are free.
- TrustedNews: A Chrome plugin developed by Factmata. It indicates quality and bias using a stoplight.
- InVid Verification Plugin: A plugin to debunk fake news and verify images and videos
- NewsGuard: Site developed by journalists to help consumers recognize when news is valid. Contains plugs in for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge browsers that designates validity of information.
- TrustServista: To gauge the trustworthiness of articles, TrustServista examines the style, factual references, context, and other relevant facets of a written work. It generates an overall trustworthiness score for each piece of news.
- Stopaganda Plus: Evaluations are based on the ratings of fact-checking site Media Bias/Fact Check.
- The Factual: An algorithm-powered app and browser extension that rates the credibility of digital news articles. It generates credibility ratings for more than 10,000 news articles each day.
There are many more extensions available, each targeted at a different aspect of the disinformation ecosystem and applying different approach. It goes without saying that I and Gartner are happy to help our clients select and deploy the most appropriate for your environment.
In his official advisory, Surgeon General Murthy said combating misinformation requires “a whole-of-society effort.” Technical professionals and IT leaders need to do their part. Fact-check and bias detection extensions are the lowest of low-hanging fruit. Provide them for your staff now.