Web of Lies

“Web of lies:  Is the Internet making a world without truth” is an article by Chris Baranluk in the Feb 20-26, 2016 edition of the New Scientist.  The World Economic Forum ranks massive digital misinformation as a geopolitical risk alongside terrorism.  This problem is especially pernicious as misinformation is very difficult to correct (enter “misinformation” into the healthy memory search block to see relevant posts).  Bruce Schneider, a director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says that we’re entering an era of unprecedented psychological manipulation.

Walter Quattrociocchi at the IMT Institute for Advanced Studies in Lucca, Italy, along with his colleagues looked at how different types of information are spread on Facebook by different communities.  They analyzed two groups:  those who shared conspiracy theories and those who shared science news articles.  They found that science stories received an initial spike of interest and were shared or “liked” frequently.  Conspiracy theories started with a low level of interest, but sometimes grew to be even more important than the science stories overall.  Both groups tended to ignore information that challenged they views.  Confirmation bias leads to an echo chamber.  Information that does not fit with an individual’s world view does not get passed on.  On social networks, people true their peers and use them as their primary information sources.   Quattrociocchi  says “The role of the expert is going to disappear.”

DARPA, a research agency for the U.S. Military,  is funding a Social Media in Strategic Communication Program, which funds dozens of studies looking at everything from subtle linguistic cues in specific posts to how information flows across large networks.
DARPA has also sponsored a challenge to design bots that can sniff out misinformation deliberately planted on Twitter.

Ultimately the aim of this research is to find ways to identify misinformation and effectively counter it, reducing the ability of groups like ISIS to manipulate events.  Jonathan Russell, head of policy at counter-terrorism think tank Quilliam in London says, “They have managed to digitize propaganda in a way that is completely understanding of social media and how it’s used.  Russell says that a lack of other voices also gives the impression that they are winning.  There’s no other  effective media coming out of Iraq and Syria.  Think tank Quilliam has attempted to counter such narratives with videos like “Not Another Brother,” which depicts a jihadist recruit in desperate circumstances.  It aims to show how easily people can be seduced by exposure to a narrow view of the world.

This research is key.  Information warfare will play an increasingly larger percentage of warfare than kinetic effects.

Pangiotis Metasxes of Wellsley College believes that we have entered a new ea in which the definition of literacy needs to be updated.  “In the past to be literate you needed to know reading and writing.  Today, these two are not enough.  Information reaches us from a vast number of sources.  We need to learn what to read, as well as how.”

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