Internet Deception Is Here To Stay — So, What Do We Do Now?: Fake Followers; Fake News; Foreign Influence Operations; The Last Decade Revealed What’s Online Is Not As It Seems — What’s Ahead For The Internet In The New Decade?

Internet Deception Is Here To Stay — So, What Do We Do Now?: Fake Followers; Fake News; Foreign Influence Operations; The Last Decade Revealed What’s Online Is Not As It Seems — What’s Ahead For The Internet In The New Decade?
 
     The title above comes from Paris Martineau’s December 30, 2019 article she posted to the technlogy and security blog, WIRED.com. Ten years ago [2010] “techno-optimism was surging,” Ms. Martrineau wrote. “A whopping 75 percent of American adults were online — a big jump from the 46 percrent that were logging on a decade prior — crusing through the information age largely from the comfort of their homes for the first time en masse. Social media was relatively new and gaining traction — especially among young people — as the worlds attention appeared to shift to apps from the browser-based web.”
 
     “The Pew Research Center marked the new decade [2010] by asking 895 leading technologists, researchers, and critics,for predictions of what the Internet-connected world of 2020 would look like,” Ms. Martineau wrote. “On one subject there was overwhelming consensus: 85 percent of respondents agreed that the “social benefits of Internet use will far outweigh the negatives over the next decade,” noting that the Internet by and large “improves social relations and will continue to do so through 2020. They pointed to the ease of communication and wealth of knowledge granted by the information age as reasons to be optimistic.”
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
     “A lot as it turns out,” Ms. Martineau notes. “An early sign of the coming info apocalypse [fake news] came in the form of A Gay Girl From Damascus. The blog chronicled the life of its author, Amina Arraf, a 35 year-old gay Syrian woman participating in an uprising against Syrian President Bashir al-Assad. The online story quickly found a [receptive and gullible] global audience, who became enraptured with Arraf’s moving prose and vivid description of queer life in the Middle East. The Guardian described her as an “unlikely hero of revolt in a conservative country.”
     “Until June 6, 2011, when a different kind of post appeared on the blog,” Ms. Martineau wrote. “It was a panicked update from Arraf’s cousin explaining she had been thrown into the back of a red minivan by three mysterious men in downtown Damascus. News of the kidnapping quickly spread across the globe, resulting in reports from The Guardian, The New York Times, Fox News, CNN, and others.  A “Free Amina” campaign led to the creation of posters and other websites. The State Department even started an investigation into her disappearance.”
     “Six days after the so-called kidnapping occured, the truth emerged: The gay girl from Damascus, was a forty year-old American man from Georgia named Tom,” Ms. Martineau wrote. “The blog, social media accounts, and nearly six years of postings under the name Amina Arraf were all fake. The hoax rocked the blogsphere, and marked a turning point in public awareness and digital deception.”
     “The  web has always been awash with deception, dating to the web’s earliest days.” Ms. Martineau reminds us. And, “flaws emergedd in the web’s key measuring sticks — like clicks, follower counts, views and so on. In July 2012, a start-up made headlines by reporting that only one in every five clicks on its FaceBook ads came from actual humans. The rest, the company alleged, were from bots.” An “explosive claim at the time that now seems almost quaint. Then  of course, we began  to get a heavy dose of fake news, disinformation, and propaganda/information influence operations — from ISIS recruiting videos, to Russian attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election.
     As Ms. Martineau concluded, online “fakery isn’t going away. A deception-free Internet is a nostalgia-steeped illusion. A better question might be the likely scale of online fakery a decade from now.”
How The Internet Is Likely To Evolve In The Coming Decade?
     As we all know, the threat does not stay stagnant. It evolves and morphs in ways we do not anticipate, nor  envision. It is indeed, a digital wilderness of mirrors, full of fake stories, fake images and videos, false flags, and, clever/sophisticated disinformation/influence campaigns. There isn’t likely to be any dimunition of these threats; and indeed, fake news, fake videos and fake images, are only likely to become more sophisticated and more difficult to immediately recognize.
     The freedom of, and the access to the Internet and the knowledge it holds, is a threat to regimes such as those in Russia, China, Iran, North Korea, and and elsewhere. others. One would have to guess that these dictatorial regimes will continue to find clever and devious ways to control their own Internet, and increase their ability to clandestinely surveil what their population, and the individual is accessing, or attempting to. In essence, the despotic regimes are in the process of building/erecting a Digital Iron Curtain.
 

     While non-democratic regimes will look to control the flow and content of the data on their ‘domestic’ Internets, and enhance surveillance of those who use it, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the entity that birthed the Internet — is working on a totally anonymous Internet. While such a development would likely have some nasty unintended consequences, an anonymous Internet could be a lifeline for those living in oppressive societies; and, a potential way around oppressive surveillance.

     Artificial intelligence (AI) enhanced malware will enable and empower those who practice denial and deception, and super-charge the ‘fake news’ practitioners. There will be algorithms and software that is designed to ferret out fake or deceptive news and articles; but, my guess is that the darker digital angles of our nature will still have the upper hand for some time to come.
     The revolution will be tweeted. The power of the Internet combined with social media is indeed a powerful phenomena; and, at times seems unstoppable. The instant connectivity and availability of the worldwide web has and, is enabling the masses to challenge decades of autocratic rule — hastening a process — that in past history, took years or decades to accomplish. But, the darker angels of our nature in North Korea, Iran, Syria, etc., have had the upper hand in this domain and have used it for sinister means of control and ferreting out their ‘enemies.’ A new McCarthyism in the Internet age is sweeping up those who would oppose or overthrow those tyrants and despots who cling to power at the barrel of a machine-gun.
     Upon asking former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger what is lost when a protest movement time-table is accelerated/compress/(Arab Spring), Mr. Kissinger responded, “it is hard to imagine a De Gaulle or Churchill, appealing to the masses via FaceBook. “In the age of hyper-connectivity,” he said, “I don’t see people willing to stand by themselves and have the confidence to stand alone.” “Instead,” he says, “a kind of mad consensus will drive the world, — and few people will be willing to oppose it — even though that is precisely the kind of risk that a great leader must take.”
     The empowered citizen,” Mr. Kissinger says, “knows the technique of getting people to the square, but they don’t know what to do when they get there. These people can easily get marginalized,” he explained, “because their strategies lose effectiveness over time. Dictators and autocrats, — in the years to come — will attempt to build all-encompassing surveillance states, and they will have unprecedented technologies with which to do so.” But he does add a glimmer of hope. “They can never succeed completely [all-encompassing surveillance states]. Dissidents will build tunnels out, and bridges across. Citizens will have more ways to fight back than ever before — some of them anonymous, some courageously public,” he concludes.
     So, it would seem that we have a burgeoning Digital Iron Curtain being conceived or constructed, as well as a totally anonymous Internet being developed. Add to that a burgeoning off-the-grid movement, denial and deception, fake news and digital mine fields galore, and who knows, maybe even a digital ‘Dr. No’ will emerge. I still believe on balance that the Internet has been a tremendous force for good; and, will continue to greatly enhance our lives. But, it will continue to be a rocky ride, as the darker digital angles of our nature will continue to seek clever and devious ways to disrupt our lives — or worse.
     And finally, will a cyber weapon of mass destruction, that is lethal and can cause significant loss of life — be developed?  RCP, fortunascorner.com

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