In Seoul, Blinken Warns of Disinformation Threat to Democracies

Blinken Highlights Disinformation Dangers to Democracies During Seoul Visit

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken issued a warning on Monday about the dangers of disinformation to the world’s democracies. He highlighted the role of rapidly advancing artificial intelligence in spreading doubt, skepticism, and instability worldwide.

Blinken delivered his message in Seoul during the Summit for Democracy. This event, organized by the Biden administration, aims to challenge the authoritarian approaches of countries like Russia and China, which the U.S. sees as a critical concern.

Having once worked as a journalist, Blinken reflected on the significant changes in the global information landscape he has witnessed over his career. He pointed out that these changes are being exploited by forces opposed to democracy.

He emphasized that disinformation is being used to widen divisions within democratic societies. Blinken also mentioned that countries representing nearly half the global population, including India, are facing elections this year amidst the threat of manipulated information. However, he did not comment on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, which analysts fear could be influenced by foreign disinformation campaigns, similar to Russia’s efforts in 2016.

To combat this, the U.S. is promoting digital and media literacy programs internationally to help people evaluate the credibility of information. Blinken warned that adversaries, including China, are skillfully spreading their propaganda. For instance, China has acquired cable TV providers in Africa and has limited access to international news channels.

Blinken also raised concerns about the increasingly sophisticated AI programs that can deceive even the most discerning news consumers. He urged social media platforms to take further action, such as marking AI-generated content clearly. Following this advice, Meta announced a plan to label such content on Facebook and Instagram.

Experts at the conference acknowledged the vast challenge of combating disinformation. Oliver Dowden, Britain’s deputy prime minister, shared an anecdote about an AI-generated image of Pope Francis in a puffer jacket, illustrating how fake images can subtly influence perceptions.

A recent report commissioned by the State Department highlighted the “catastrophic risks” posed by AI, including the potential for AI systems with “superhuman persuasion” to undermine democracy. The report also expressed concerns about AI’s ability to disrupt democratic processes through election interference or voter manipulation.

Blinken discussed the issue of commercial spyware, noting its use by several governments to surveil and intimidate journalists and activists. He announced that six countries are joining a U.S.-led initiative to ensure that spyware is used in a manner consistent with human rights and freedoms. This follows President Biden’s executive order last year that prohibited the U.S. government from using commercial spyware.

The Summit for Democracy, now in its third year, was initiated by President Biden in 2021. Biden has stated that democracy and freedom are facing challenges both domestically and internationally. The summit aims to support nations in promoting civil society best practices and safeguarding against political interference.

During Blinken’s visit to Seoul, North Korea conducted a test launch of short-range ballistic missiles. This action followed joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which North Korea criticized as provocative. Although Blinken did not address the missile launches in his remarks, the State Department condemned them. Additionally, Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Cho Tae-yul discussed North Korea’s military support for Russia’s actions in Ukraine and its increasingly hostile rhetoric and activities.