Is everything online a lie?
Increasingly my personal experience on the Internet has been sorting through the bogus. Not just misinformation and propaganda by political actors… I mean the entire internet experience. And it has left me wondering – Does truth even matter anymore?
What is truth Neo?
From fake reviews, to fake profiles, to fake photos, to now fake videos.. what is real? What is true? What is truth?
When you go online, on your phone, tablet, computer, at work or at home… it is likely that you will encounter at least one fake experience.
How does that experience, and the culmination of all the lies, the perceived and more importantly, the undetected, affect you as a person, an individual, a member of society?
How can you be certain of anything anymore if it is just a lie? Does it matter, like our privacy and personal data don’t matter? Have we resigned ourselves to just accept whatever we are told or to descend into madness trying to validate every little experience because we can’t say for certain it is real?
The rabbit hole
Here is a summary of one my most recent experiences online. Unfortunately, I encounter this every day. As most of you do but may not realize.
- Created an account on Fiverr to find someone for small graphic design work
- Saw a profile, listed in Canada, contacted them for quote
- They wrote back in broken English and with very suspicious response, wasn’t sure what I was dealing with
- Did a reverse search image using Tin Eye to find out that wasn’t actually their profile photo
- Spent the next four hours analyzing the photo, leads on the original source
- Found an identical unphotoshopped version that had a photographer’s mark in the bottom right corner
- Eventually I found the Russian photographer who took the photo but after scanning through his online digital archive did not come across that particular photo. Found similar, best guess it is him
- The original was likely taken in 2013 in Moscow, Russia
Nothing is sacred on the internet. Nothing is real. The person passing off that photo as their own is making lots of money on Fiverr, getting on just fine. Who knows why they did it, or if the reviews they are getting are even real. I decided to go with a local shop in the end because I couldn’t trust that experience.
The players being played
The precariousness of trust has lead to some really sophisticated social engineering. Here are a few examples.
Fake LinkedIn accounts – someone in my network accepts a request from a fake account and it perpetuates. When you see the account, you think, well my colleague trusted them so that person has inherited credibility
Fake Twitter – Fake news accounts or bots permeating the twittersphere to spread misinformation or to build a profile that seems legit when it’s crapping all over some political position
Fake Facebook accounts – Not just for phishing, crazy hacking exes or dubious gofundme claims, these accounts can be created using images floating over the internet to appear to be real people with real lives. Then they troll the comments sections trying to sway popular opinion
Fake Instagram followers – If you have 100,000 followers, you can be an influencer. Heck even less. And they don’t even need to be real. You know, fake it until you make it? But how do these dubious influencers influence our children? How do they impact the businesses desperate for sales?
Fake Amazon reviews – Not just on amazon but really anywhere where there are reviews, tripadvisor had a problem in the past, so did Facebook which is why they shifted to recommendations. Reviews are just part of the problem at Amazon, where sometimes authors buy a certain amount of their own books to boost their numbers
Fake blogs, leads, internet traffic – this falls into the spambot and organized crime syndicate. Generating revenue from ad traffic and redirecting consumers to their sites for views. You’ve seen those garbage clickbait sites, that is but one source of boosting internet traffic. This type of fakery fools businesses, sophisticated ad systems and algorithms for the purpose of burning ad dollars. If you can believe it, businesses are the victims in these type of ruse.
Fake views, likes, follows – like the above, boosting numbers are about getting more eyeballs to a page that benefits from traffic. YouTube is the obvious contender but there are other platforms like Instagram. What’s different between these lies and the ones above, is that the consumer is the victim because we are still heavily influenced by how many views, likes, follows a piece of content gets. Unfortunately these metrics add to the trustworthiness of what we are seeing.
Other areas of fakery
Fake dating profiles – phishing, predators and perverts – I would hope most people are now savvy but every now and then, our brains are overruled by our bodies
Fake news – doctoring existing content or just creating garbage and spreading it across channels (see fake terror)
Fake media – AI generated images
Fake terror – spreading lies online to fuel hate
Stolen imagery, repurposed (see my example above)
You get the idea. It’s all very dishonest. It’s coursing throughout the neural network of the entire internet. It’s a big problem and it affects all of us.
What should we do about it?
This was me last month pursuing the truth online. My spidey senses are always tingling on the internet. It’s impossible to avoid bullshit and very hard for me to ignore bad players. But I must. For my own sanity. I have decided to reduce my own digital use, force myself to stay connected to those I don’t agree with (so as not to fall into an echo chamber), and randomly correct misinformation when I see a family or friend post it. Other than that, I will continue to teach my children and community what’s out there. Not the truth. The digital truth isn’t out there. Rather, I will teach that we can only trust ourselves and our tribes for now.
What realistically can be done?
Truth is a part of who we are as humans. Our homes, community and surrounding environment. It’s wherever we are. The lack of truth and what to do about it will be up to more powerful people than me.
There’s so much out there. There are computers, machines, algorithms, data centers, essentially vast amounts of data, information and resources that complicate, compound and create the problem we now face with digital truth. Sometimes I despair and wish I was a Luddite. Other times I think I’m doing my small part, similar to the advice out of Australia on debunking a myth, and it will somehow make a difference.
Ultimately, I think we, as a society need to demand more from our governments, those responsible for overseeing big businesses, policing organized crime and protecting citizens from harm. We as individuals also need to do our part, reducing our digital footprint, informing ourselves on our privacy rights and recognizing we aren’t at the mercy of the machines and those who operate them.
Eventually we will need public policy, governance, accountability and ethics to intervene if we want to prevent the complete degradation of the Internet 2.0.
Fixing the internet, technology or companies to enforce the truth isn’t the solution. Seeking truth online can’t be a thing as it’s quite literally a rabbit hole that no one has time for.
Instead, and I think we already doing it, we should demonstrate to government, businesses, corporations and people who stand to profit from the lies, that we aren’t so easily influenced. Our views aren’t so easily swayed.
Once we start making decisions that directly affect the bottom line of big business and the sanctity of governments, they’ll start to listen.
Since we are talking billions of dollars in eroded public faith in the system, I trust the powers that be will care about the lies they are enabling in their ecosystems.
It’s not going to be easy. For anyone profiting off of the internet, anyone that has to answer to shareholders and the magnitude at what’s at stake if we stop trusting the internet, the truth hurts.