Government Must Address Problem as National Interests Are At Stake

“Information warfare” campaigns in which false information is disseminated to influence public opinion in other countries have become an issue around the world. It cannot be said that Japan is fully prepared for such a situation. Measures are urgently needed.

The government has announced that it will start preparing a system to deal with false information disseminated by foreign countries.

The aim is to strengthen the collection of information on social media such as Twitter and elsewhere online, to detect false information that could be detrimental to national interests, and to disseminate accurate information.

Last year, false information about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on social media stated that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had fled the country. It is believed that it was a Russian maneuver aimed at lowering morale on the Ukrainian side.

China has targeted Taiwan with false information stating the United States was trying to cause an emergency in the Taiwan Strait. It is believed that the intention was to turn public opinion in Taiwan away from Washington. Dissemination of false information has become a security threat.

So far, Japan has not faced much false information from abroad, partly because of the language barrier. However, in August last year, a problem emerged when a hoax Tweet purportedly by Nobuo Kishi, then a special advisor to the prime minister, was disseminated.

In the post, which was made to appear as if it was by Kishi, Ukraine was accused of trying to destroy the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant with missiles. The Japanese government discovered that the Russian Embassy in Britain had disseminated the post and made the embassy remove it.

It has become extremely difficult to determine the accuracy of information on the internet, including social media.

The development of the generative artificial intelligence model “ChatGPT” has made it possible to create clever, natural sentences, even in Japanese. Recently, even hoax videos have been created using AI and disseminated online.

The United States has established a specialized agency within the Homeland Security Department to monitor and counter false information from foreign countries and mitigate the damage such information can cause.

In Japan, the foreign and defense ministries are primarily responsible for information gathering, with the Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office serving as a command center. It is necessary for them to work closely together.

The operators of social media and other online services also bear a heavy responsibility. The government should take measures to urge operators to secure sufficient personnel to monitor posts and prevent the spread of false information.

To ensure users of social media and other services do not simply take information at face value, it is important for them to be able to discern whether the source of information is a trustworthy media outlet. Efforts are needed to improve “IT literacy” at the educational level.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 5, 2023)