Trust Nothing

Illustration created by Midjourney with the prompt “Create an engaging and thought-provoking graphic representing the concept of ‘Default to Distrust’ for a blog post discussing the importance of skepticism when interacting with AI-generated content. Visualize the shift in mindset from trusting to distrusting online information, and incorporate elements related to generative AI, deepfakes, and misinformation. Use a modern and visually appealing style that complements the tone of the blog post. –v 5 –ar 16:9 “


For reasons that are theorized – but not fully understood – human beings “default-to-trust.” In other words, it is more evolutionarily stable to trust someone than it is to begin from a place of distrust. We don’t always default-to-trust when we meet a stranger, especially if we’re in a new or uncomfortable environment, but when we are not under a perceived threat, almost all of us default-to-trust because the benefits of doing so outweigh the consequences of acting like a cynical, pessimistic jerk.

This strategy has stood the test of time. We generally trust others until given a reason to do otherwise. However, as the output from large language models and generative AI becomes increasingly indistinguishable from that produced by humans, it’s time to consider a new paradigm: “default to distrust.”

Are we ready to switch our default setting when dealing with AI?

Embracing a “default to distrust” mindset when dealing with AI-generated content can encourage critical thinking, fact-checking, and verification. This approach helps protect us from the pitfalls of deepfakes, misinformation, and deceptive content. As it becomes more challenging to tell AI-generated content apart from genuine human work, it’s essential to approach all online content with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Here are some strategies for transitioning from “default to trust” to “default to distrust” when interacting with content:

1. Be vigilant and verify – develop the habit of cross-checking facts, sources, and claims with reputable outlets when encountering all data-driven or online content.

2. Cultivate AI literacy – understanding the basics of AI, machine learning, and deep learning is essential to recognize their limitations and potential pitfalls. Enhance your knowledge with resources like our free online Generative AI for Executives course.

3. Identify telltale signs of generative and synthetic content – stay alert for subtle cues such as awkward phrasing, inconsistencies, or implausible statements that might indicate the content has been generated by AI.

4. Utilize detection tools – familiarize yourself with tools designed to detect AI-generated text, images, and videos, and use them to verify the authenticity of the content you encounter. (Google this topic, it’s vast. I do not want to endorse any particular tools in this article.)

5. Champion transparency – promote clear labeling and disclosure practices for AI-generated content, which can help raise awareness and understanding among users.

6. Team up with AI, not against it – AI, when used ethically and responsibly, has the potential to transform industries and improve our lives. Harness its power for good while remaining vigilant against potential misuse.

7. Foster open dialogue and education – encourage discussions about AI-generated content and its potential risks to empower individuals and organizations to make informed decisions about trusting such content.

8. Advocate for regulations and ethical guidelines – work with lawmakers, tech companies, and stakeholders to establish transparent, accountable, and ethical rules and standards for AI usage.

Navigating the online world with “default to distrust”

Adopting a “default to distrust” mindset when engaging with online content seems to be a necessary step. But it is going to be very hard to do. It will require a discipline that most of us do not have. It will require a lot of energy and time. But, most of all, it will require adopting a highly contrarian, skeptical mindset. This just feels wrong. But, it’s not wrong.

Starting today, you should adopt two modes of operation: IRL and online. For IRL, you can do what works for you. Most of us know when to default-to-trust and when to adopt a defensive posture. However, when online, you must default-to-distrust. AI has no feelings to hurt. And, no human will ever be offended if you delete their email. If they are really your friends or potential customers or colleagues, they will reach out again. Either way, better safe than sorry.

Author’s note: This is not a sponsored post. I am the author of this article and it expresses my own opinions. I am not, nor is my company, receiving compensation for it.

About Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is the Professor of Advanced Media in Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and CEO of The Palmer Group, a consulting practice that helps Fortune 500 companies with technology, media and marketing. Named LinkedIn’s “Top Voice in Technology,” he covers tech and business for Good Day New York, is a regular commentator on CNN and writes a popular daily business blog. He's a bestselling author, and the creator of the popular, free online course, Generative AI for Execs. Follow @shellypalmer or visit


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