Interview with Victoria Ertelthalner

Interview with Victoria Ertelthalner

We need to think about how to ensure the integrity of data and how to protect it from manipulation

Victoria Ertelthalner is a teaching assistant at the Department of Communication at the University of Vienna. She has studied Journalism and Communication Studies and earned her Master’s degree in Interdisciplinary East European Studies. She was one of the speakers at the conference “Fake News and other AI Challenges for the News Media in the 21st Century”, which took place in Vienna on the 29th and 30th of November of 2018.

For this interview, Vicoria Ertelthalner answered questions regarding the fake news, artificial intelligence (AI) and news-production.

Q: According to your perception, what does fake news actually mean?

VE:  Fake news “means” deliberately spreading false content to achieve specific goals. More specifically, I want to follow the definition from Allcott and Gentzkow (2017): Fake news are “intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers”. According to Tandoc et al. (2018), low investment in reporting and long-term reputation seems to be characteristics.

We have to be really careful with the term “fake news”, while I suggest the use of the term “disinformation” instead. Moreover, it is also important to distinguish between harmful and accidentally false report. Harmful disinformation could undermine democratic processes in society and lead to a higher skepticism of recipients towards established media.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges regarding the detection of fake news?

VE: The lack of contextual understanding of AI shows its limitations in journalistic news-production. In addition, underlying analysis patterns have their origins in human thinking. What happens if those would be reproduced by algorithms?

Q: If there was a perfect solution for detecting fake news, do you think this should be accessible to anyone?

VE: Yes, if the control mechanism follows guidelines about transparency! I see the need for media literacy, which must be extended by the aspect of technology and data awareness. Discussing and educating the recipient is the first step. Content restrictions indirectly refer to censorship.

Q: Do you think that the traditional media providers should be more active in identifying subtle cases of fake news?

VE: That would be possible and useful. Media has the power to make false content a subject of discussion, rectify it and reach a disperse audience.

The production of publicity and the “selection and communication of information” are fundamental responsibilities of journalism as a control mechanism for society. Technological possibilities and political decisions also have an influence on the autonomy of journalistic work (Blöbaum 2016).

Q: According to your opinion, what could the future bring for the interaction of AI and news?

VE: First, we must ask ourselves how much autonomy, as the acting entity and decision-making power, is transferred to AI. If we assume that AI is used as a tool for journalistic activities, there are advantages, such as processing large amounts of data, hints on hidden connections or support in research activities. That can be helpful for limited use cases and could support journalists in their preparatory work.

Assuming that AI acts in a self-optimizing feedback cycle and human intervention is limited, consequences in the context of disinformation are uncontrollable. We need to think about how to ensure the integrity of data and how to protect it from manipulation.

If you are interested in learning more about the interplay of fake news and AI, check out the other interviews with specialists that SAIL LABS conducted about the topic.


Hunt Allcott & Matthew Gentzkow, (2017). “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol 31(2), 211-236.

Edson C. Tandoc Jr (2018). “Tell Me Who Your Sources Are,” Journalism Practice, DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2017.1423237

Bernd Blöbaum (ed.) (2016).  Trust and Communication in a Digitized World,” European Journal of Communication, vol 31(5), 615–615.

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