• Social Series

Unbalanced information diet: AI-generated deception / Government Countering Misinformation about Treated Water

Reuters file photo
Blue pipelines to transport seawater, part of the facility for releasing treated water to sea from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc., also known as TEPCO, are seen during a treated water dilution and discharge facility tour for foreign media, on Aug. 27, 2023.

This is the fifth installment in a series examining moves to spread biased information through the use of generative artificial intelligence, acts that threaten our democracy.

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False information from China circulated on social media in late August claiming that Japan had released nuclear-contaminated water and sold Taiwan 20,000 fish that had originally been meant to be exported to China. The post included NHK news images and statements falsely attributed to Yasutoshi Nishimura, then economy, trade and industry minister, who was made to look as if he had described the situation in a press conference.

The ministry issued a statement refuting this misinformation on Sept. 2. It revealed that the press conference video had been tampered with, and strongly condemned the spread of such false information, emphasizing that it severely harms the people in the disaster-affected areas.

“Fake information using the minister’s image has a big impact. We needed to deny it firmly,” a ministry executive said.

The National Security Strategy, revised by the government in December 2022, explicitly refers to “bolstering the ability to respond to information warfare.” The Cabinet Intelligence and Research Office serves as the command center, with various ministries actively collecting and clearly refuting misinformation originating overseas.

Regarding the release of treated water from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, other false information has also been circulated. Misinformation such as “Japan made donations to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)” and “radiation levels in the treated water exceeded standards” spread on social media. The Foreign Ministry issued complete denials in June and August, with Hideaki Ishii, director of the Public Diplomacy Strategy Division, characterizing it as Japan’s first large-scale misinformation campaign through social media, serving as a warning to society.

The Defense Ministry established the post of “global strategy intelligence officer” in April 2022, a position responsible for analyzing international situations and handling misinformation. They use artificial intelligence that automatically collects public information and data on social media to enhance its analytic capability.

Misinformation is prevalent globally, as seen throughout Russia’s aggression in Ukraine and the conflict involving Israel and the Islamic militant group Hamas. Yuko Murakami, the first global strategy intelligence officer, emphasized: “The need for a response to information warfare, including the cognitive domain, is urgent. In an era where AI enhances both the quality and quantity of misinformation, incorporating cutting-edge technology into countermeasures is essential.”

The government is increasing the budget and expediting responses. However, the online space is already inundated with misinformation. Some voices from the field argue that the government cannot manage alone and the entirety of society needs to take action.