I’ve been keeping up with a number of the stories hinted at in the headline above but have yet to comment on them. Truthfully, it’s hard to keep up. There seems to be another huge story on these topics every time I turn around, and they get more and more creepy/concerning.
Where to start this piece? It’s hard to know… how about with the ‘least concerning’ issue first?
Global Warming Denier Bots
Just because I am starting with this one, don’t think for a second that I think it is not a HUGE issue. In the face of what could be the greatest human suffering in history (human-caused, unprecedented, catastrophic, world-changing global warming and climate change), the companies that don’t want to see us cut our fossil fuel addiction and their puppet politicians may have more power than similarly threatened industries, like the tobacco industry, had in the past.
People live on their computers and on social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Digg) more than ever before. While you may think all the users on these sites are real people, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
There are fake users all over the place hired to troll the internet, stir up trouble, and make it seem like a ton of normal people think something the employer wants the public to support. Why? Well, pretty simply, people are more likely to think something if they think a lot of other people think it. Additionally, regarding complicated topics, a few seemingly informed (even if they are totally wrong) remarks can confuse a lot of people or convince them of the story/’facts’ the company (or government agency) wants them to believe.
I have these global warming denier trolls on Planetsave everyday. It comes with being a leading site covering this topic.
And the concern is not only that humans are being hired to do this, but that, increasingly, bots (internet robots, essentially) are being created (or set up/programmed) to troll the internet and spew propaganda. Truthfully, as a comment moderator, these might be preferred to me, because you can more quickly notice them (I think). But I am sure I have approved and responded to many such bots over the past couple years, allowing misinformation to spread further and allowing global-warming-denier propaganda to seem more widely supported, not to mention wasting my own time).
And I’m sure on many blogs where comments aren’t even moderated, it is much worse.
The takeaway message: be very conscious of this issue, and realize that the internet is not a model of free speech and democracy at this point — it is increasingly dominated by propaganda campaigns and fake users effortlessly spewing lies.
By the way, here’s more in-depth reading on this that I highly recommend:
- The need to protect the internet from ‘astroturfing’ grows ever more urgent (Guardian)
- Denier-bots live! Why are online comments’ sections over-run by the anti-science, pro-pollution crowd? (Climate Progress)
How Far Does It Go?
Beyond actually spreading extremely harmful misinformation and making it seem like there’s a public consensus on a topic (and, in effect, stimulating belief in a ridiculous idea), professional hackers are actually targeting progressive bloggers, journalists, and their families to get private information about them, smear them, take over their sites, and essentially turn the internet into some sort of corporate-mafia-controlled space.
If this isn’t concerning, I don’t know what is.
Again, rather than delve into the details of what’s going on, I’ll direct you over to some excellent stories covering these topics.
First, though, the overall points: 1) again, be aware that this is happening; 2) be careful what you put on the internet, what you open, what you give access to; and 3) don’t get too lost in the internet.
As part of that, but maybe giving it its own line here, if you are learning about an important topic (i.e. global warming), get your information from the most reliable, authentic sites you can (i.e. NASA, NOAA, and sites run by real, highly-respected climate scientists, like RealClimate).
OK, now, the other articles on these matters, if you want to dig into the creepy and totally illegal stuff that is going on behind your screen:
- ChamberLeaks: Plan Solicited By Chamber Lawyers Included Malware Hacking Of Activist Computers
- CHAMBERLEAKS: US Chamber’s Lobbyists Solicited Firm To Investigate Opponents’ Families, Children
- And the Climate Progress story linked above
Photo Credit: Stian Eikeland