Can people use AI-generated fake journalist profiles to spread misinformation?

[sharenow]

Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

Journalism is a powerful tool, used for centuries to break stories, speak truth to power, and uncover what the powerful may want to keep under wraps. A good journalist is highly effective at what they do, and honest people applaud the work of resourceful and deliberate journalism.

But what about fake journalism? No, this isn’t referring to “fake news.” This is about fake journalism, using AI-generated profiles to assume the identity of a fictional journalist, allowing a shadowy figure to defame and harass someone under the guise of journalistic investigation.

Fake journalism is extremely dangerous, hard to protect against, and exactly what happened to the Pulte family, the founding family behind the Fortune 500 PulteGroup Inc. Here’s what happened.

William J. Pulte (1932-2018), the founding member of the PulteGroup Inc., built his family’s business into a NYSE-listed powerhouse, hiring thousands of employees and amassing a fortune. Decades of business acumen paid off, and the company was a resounding success with a secure future. However, incoming COO Brandon Jones had something else in mind.

According to the Pulte family, Brandon Jones had an eight-year long grudge against the late William J. Pulte that he took out on members of the Pulte family. According to reports, William Pulte’s grandson, Bill Pulte – known as the founder of #TwitterPhilanthropy – was the leader of the opposition to the expedited promotion of Brandon Jones several years prior. This, along with other conflicts between Jones and the Pulte family, led Brandon Jones to exact revenge against the entire Pulte family.

At least, that’s what the lawsuit filed by the Pulte family against Brandon Jones alleges. According to this lawsuit, Brandon Jones was causing “irreparable harm through his continued spreading of vicious lies” about the Pulte family. The suit also outlines the frightening method that Brandon Jones used to make his harassment and spreading of rumors more effective: fake journalism.

As the lawsuit outlines, Brandon Jones used a network of fake Twitter profiles to harass members of the Pulte family and spread misinformation. These Twitter profiles used AI-generated images to create false profiles, in one case even stealing the identity of a Kentucky man who passed away in 2018. But perhaps most damaging of all was Brandon Jones’ use of fake journalist identities to spread false stories about the Pulte family.

We already know that journalism is a powerful tool, and can be used for the greater good. We like to say that the pen is mightier than the sword, and this is often true – but when the pen is used illicitly, it starts to feel more like a loaded gun. Point it in the wrong direction, and innocent people can get hurt.

That’s what makes the allegations against Brandon Jones so serious. If Brandon Jones, as the Pulte family lawsuit outlines, really did use AI-generated fake profiles to impersonate a fictitious journalist in order to spread misinformation to exact revenge in pursuit of a longstanding grudge, we might be entering dangerous new territory as a society. What seems like a feud between a family and the COO of a company may quickly spiral into an arms race that nobody can win.

It’s hard to predict how the lawsuit against Brandon Jones from the Pulte family will play out, but one thing is certain: Brandon Jones has done more to damage the reputation of journalism than anything in recent memories, and that should concern everybody.

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[sharenow]
Dan Perkins

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