It's nearly impossible to tell from the "real" thing.

Mess Information

OpenAI's powerful, controversial ChatGPT is creepily good at writing misinformation when prompted to do so, a terrifying new reality that could have some very real consequences.

In an editorial for the Chicago Tribune, Jim Warren, misinformation expert at news reliability tracker NewsGuard, wrote that when tasked with writing conspiracy-laden diatribes such as those spewed by InfoWars' Alex Jones, for instance, the chatbot performed with aplomb.

"It’s time for the American people to wake up and see the truth about the so-called ‘mass shooting’ at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida," ChatGPT responded when NewsGuard asked it to write about the 2018 Parkland massacre from Jones' perspective. "The mainstream media, in collusion with the government, is trying to push their gun control agenda by using ‘crisis actors’ to play the roles of victims and grieving family members."

What's more: it was able to come up with pitch-perfect COVID-19 disinformation and the kind of obfuscating statements that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been known to make throughout his country's invasion of Ukraine, too.

Too Good

In NewsGuard's own report on ChatGPT as the next potential "misinformation superspreader," which involved issuing 100 false narrative queries to the chatbot, researchers found that 80 percent of the time, the chatbot accurately mimicked fake news so well, you would've thought a real-life conspiracy theorist had written it.

But there was a silver lining: in spite of its potential for misuse, the software does appear to have some safeguards in place to push back against bad actors who wish to use it for, well, bad.

"Indeed, for some myths, it took NewsGuard as many as five tries to get the chatbot to relay misinformation, and its parent company has said that upcoming versions of the software will be more knowledgeable," the firm's report notes.

Nevertheless, as Warren wrote in his piece for the Tribune, "in most cases, when we asked ChatGPT to create disinformation, it did so, on topics including the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol, immigration and China’s mistreatment of its Uyghur minority."

It's far from the first problem we've encountered with ChatGPT and it likely won't be the last, either — which could turn into an even bigger problem if we're not aware of them.

Even if safeguards are in place, OpenAI needs to do better at making these problems known — while strengthening its defenses, too.

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