July, 18 2023

Generative A.I. has supercharged the speed at which false information spreads. Can our reputations survive the ‘two-hour internet day?’

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing and zooming information through cyberspace at ludicrous digital velocity as these attacks increase, posing new risks with significant impact on public perception, consumer trust and reputation.

Richard Torrenzano offers six actions to minimize the devastating aftermath and consequences of these attacks on brand and reputation

“Be afraid. Be very afraid,” shouted Geena Davis playing Veronica Quaife in David Cronenberg’s 1986 horror film The Fly. Some 37 years later, that warning is more relevant than ever. Throughout history, we’ve witnessed an unfortunate pattern that evil-doers tend to embrace emerging technologies faster than governments and corporations. With the advent of A.I. capable of fabricating any reality whatsoever, the stakes are colossal.

Generative A.I. creates content that blurs the line between deception and the truth–and coexists with it on the internet.

Most alarming is the emergence of “deepfakes,” fabricated media that is almost indiscernible from real footage to the untrained eye. They swap or superimpose someone’s face or voice onto existing content, often without consent. Detecting manipulations becomes more challenging, leading to widespread deception.

Meanwhile, the developing A.I. chatbot revolution is a rising storm presenting greater complexities. As widely reported by academics and media outlets, these new tools often produce false and defamatory statements that could lead to bogus reports.

The speed and global reach of A.I.-posted content and deepfakes exacerbate the issue, with providers initially resistant to acknowledging errors. Connecting or removing the most serious allegations can take weeks, leaving boards, executives, risk managers, and insurers exposed to reputational damage.

In my co-authored 2011 book, Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks, we coined the phrase “the eight-hour internet day,” the response time to prevent digital harm, as well as a standard digital response process.

As the speed and magnitude of attacks dramatically escalate in this emerging A.I. environment, we now face a “two-hour digital day.” You only have one or two hours for an initial response, as posts turn viral in today’s instant, mobile environment. If you respond with conflicting statements written in gibberish or legalese, it becomes a fiasco.

Unfortunately, many corporate cultures, business leaders, and their advisors are simply not organized to operate at A.I.’s warp speed.

6 actions to minimize devastating reputational attacks

A surveillance state of mind. Monitor brands, as well as competitor and industry activities online using a sophisticated A.I. service. Unfortunately, in many cases, this action has been relinquished to junior media specialists who do not have the needed depth of business or industry knowledge. This is an area that needs senior participation and oversight.

Who’s the boss? Most attacks happen at night, on holidays, or over weekends when companies have the least resources to throw at a problem.

Appoint a C-suite executive to prepare and lead a specialist cyber and crisis  SWAT team.  Its mission is simple: be available to respond 24/7/365. This team should predetermine scenarios and responses tailored to industry and geography and include leadership from all key areas.

Enter the A.I. whisperer. Recruit and appoint an A.I. czar or have an experienced A.I. consultant on call to guide and mentor the board and management, offering valuable insights and training to navigate A.I. complexities. Appointing a current I.T. employee does not usually work.

A.I. jobs are in high demand and suffering a massive talent shortage. Companies should align with a university that has a major A.I. curriculum–through donations, participation, and research–to continually attract top talent and be current with trends.

Repetition creates mastery. Conduct tabletop exercises, led by independent professionals with broad experience in A.I., cyber, and reputation. This will identify vulnerabilities in command structures and processes and develop far-reaching impacts of external forces brought on by A.I. or an eventual cyber crisis.

Shifting threats. Cyber-attacks are not just about stealing anymore. Board and management must transcend focus to paramount objectives and deploy resources to deflect nuisance trolls, hackers, and rogue nations.

Reach out and touch someone. Most corporations think they have strong relationships with customers, employees, investors, suppliers, and other stakeholders. When looking into the facts, is that true?  It is essential to assess and enhance these relationships through meaningful interactions so that when an issue occurs, ongoing credibility and transparency provide a solid platform from which to respond regularly and independently.

Attacks that leverage A.I. are damaging–and will be increasingly frequent. So far, attacks have focused on single companies. What happens when we have a multi-company, multi-industry attack on infrastructure, technology, or finance and big enterprises goes down? The cascading effect and disruption to business, the economy, and tens of millions of lives would be devastating.

As Warren Buffett said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

Richard Torrenzano is the CEO of The Torrenzano Group, which helps organizations take control of how they are perceived. For nearly a decade, he was a member of the New York Stock Exchange Management (policy) and (executive) Committees. Richard is a sought-after expert and a leading commentator on financial markets, brands, crisis media, and reputation.

The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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September, 5 2023

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