The disinformation age

WE ARE being barraged by information from all sides; our phones, twitter accounts, mailboxes and Facebook pages constantly feed snippets of new details every second into our brains.

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Published: Sat 18 Aug 2012, 10:19 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Apr 2015, 12:42 AM

But is being so information savvy necessarily a good thing?

Late American author Michael Crichton said that we don’t live in the information age, but rather the disinformation age. And this criticism is valid — we don’t quite have a mechanism to ascertain the veracity of “facts” that come our way on the Internet.

In fact hackers are now more likely to take advantage of the flood of unfiltered information to psychologically manipulate their enemies and the public. For example, as the gory ground battle continues between Assad’s regime and Syria’s tenacious rebels, another kind of offensive has flared up in the cyber domain. During this month the Reuters blogging platform has been hacked twice by a pro-Syrian regime group. On Wednesday, there was a false blogpost on the website saying that Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal had passed away. It isn’t much of a surprise that supporters of Bashar Al Assad would be involved in spreading malicious rumours about the Saudi regime, since the latter has vehemently opposed the Ba’athist government in recent months.

And this is not it. On August 3, hackers put up an unauthorised blog post on Reuters alleging the retreat of the Syrian rebels. While the wires service quickly removed the fake report, two days later it was forced to suspend its Twitter account @ReutersTech, after it was seized, renamed and used to undermine Syrian rebels.

The developments negate the widely prevalent belief that a free flow of information would actually limit a government or a group’s ability to spread propaganda and lies. In fact, (dis)information spreads on social networking sites like a raging forest. Even remotely exciting news triggers a feverish flurry of Twitter updates and a sea of blog posts. So before hastily shooting out a tweet about some news you just read, take a moment to judge its truthfulness. And remember: Seeing is believing, as the age-old saying goes, but googling definitely is not.

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