How to survive in the fake-information age

How to survive in the fake-information age"Information wants to be free."

That was the motto of truth-seeking digital activists in the '80s and '90s.

The motto today is: "Information wants to be fake."

Just look at the news this week for a glimpse of how much chaos fake news is causing in the US.

Facebook, Twitter and Google are being dragged before US Congress to tell what they know about fake news, trolling and propaganda funded by the Russian government on those social networks.

It appears that the Russian government bought hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising on Facebook and Twitter aimed primarily at exacerbating existing social and political conflict within the United States. It also appeared to have maintained fake user accounts designed to influence voters in key swing states leading up to the presidential election.

The activity, however, isn't just an election-cycle phenomenon. It continues.

Republican senator James Lankford pointed out this week that Russian troll farms are stoking both sides of the debate over NFL players protesting during games, urging Americans to join kneeling players in protest, and also to boycott the NFL over kneeling players.

One recent tweet on a Twitter account called "Boston Antifa" came from a poster who apparently forgot to remove the location stamp. The location wasn't Boston, but Vladivostok, Russia.

Such is the nature of our age that some said even the time stamp may have been faked to smear Russia.

Nobody knows what's true.

Buzzfeed reported this week on the rising readership of content farms based overseas in places such as the Philippines, Pakistan and Macedonia. Such "publications" exist solely for profit. They don't care what's true. They just care what goes viral.

The article points out that genuine publications by Native Americans about Native American matters are being driven out of business by online "Native American" news sites based in Kosovo and Vietnam. These foreign sites make their money in part by selling merchandise based on images stolen from actual Native American artists.

Fake online information by its very nature either degrades or exploits trusted sources of information.

The president of the United States, for example, has reportedly quoted bots — fake humans with fake accounts — on Twitter at least 152 times. The president himself is often the source of false information.

Fake information goes beyond false news published as truth. Brand counterfeiting also presents threats to enterprises.

LEGO sets sold in China are often fake — not made by LEGO. But a counterfeit LEGO set recently went too far with ISIS themes, with one set including a plastic decapitated head.

The world's consumer markets are flooded with everything from fake honey to fake sneakers.

Google recently announced refunds to advertisers over fake traffic.

Some fake-information sources benefit from the existence of trusted sources of information. Because you trust a source, they can cause mayhem by using your trust to socially engineer you into doing something.

Hackers hide malicious code inside fake security updates. If you believe it's an authorized security update, you'll install unknown code on your system or network.

A fake law firm recently convinced Amazon to remove a product, costing the seller some US$200,000.

You can't even trust people selling adorable puppies. Up to 80% of online ads for puppies in the US are fake, according to the Better Business Bureau.

Fake news is such a "thing" that is even adding an entry for it in its next update.