Q&A, truth, lies, the web and you
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Q&A, truth, lies, the web and you

SOCIAL & LIFESTYLE
Q&A, truth, lies, the web and you

The online world is changing and not necessarily for the better. I'm old enough to remember what you were looking for came up as the first search result, when there was a search facility, that is. The old Bulletin Boards kept their subject matter to the topic of the board with opinions kept to opinion sites. Sites on science were not one-sided as they presented the facts along with the supporting data for checking and verification. If people disagreed, they also brought their data along to challenge a thesis and a healthy and often robust debate followed. That was then.

- If you do a search now, especially using a platform like Google, the results may have nothing to do with your question. First come the paid results and advertising, then depending on the subject matter, often just a single side of an issue. If you are lucky and scroll down enough pages, you might see another perspective and the real answer to your question, but not always. Many sites, and even once respectable scientific ones, will now filter out results based on the current narrative or politics rather than the science and data around a given subject. Those that challenge the status quo will be banned and shunned. A classic example in my areas of interest is comparing the website scepticalscience.com with say wattsupwiththat.com. Both cover the same basic subject matter. On the first, if you challenge or even ask a question about a position on the subject, you will be blocked and banned. On the latter, anyone is allowed to comment and the usual robust debates still occur.

- This has recently extended into other areas like Substack. A mostly subscription platform that describes itself as "The subscription network for independent writers and creators". Sounds great for those kicked off other platforms, but it exclusively uses Stripe as the payment gateway. That wouldn't be an issue, but Stripe has recently begun selectively requiring financial details from certain Substack authors under threat that if those details are not forthcoming, then the authors and their Substack-based businesses will no longer be able to process paid subscriptions. Stripe wants "that you link your bank account, which involves sharing details and activity relating to your bank account with Stripe. This includes your current account balance and transactions, as well as historical transactions". Limiting to a single service provider that threatens your users is insane. Time for everyone to move off Substack.

- This brings me back to Rumble. As reported earlier, advertising wasn't for every video but they have since extended this to all content, although not inside the videos themselves as yet. One issue is that it takes some time for the advertising to even start with a noticeable gap of dead air before the first ad appears. The king of advertising remains YouTube. Their ads are getting longer, more frequent and in multi-ad blocks. Worse, some of the advertising is now disingenuous. Ads for drones, security cameras and other items make claims about a product that on investigation are not true, so be careful. YouTube, and by extension Google, seem to support their viewers being swindled by some advertisers.

- There are a number of emerging terms that are worth noting. The first is fifth-generation warfare. This is defined as being run via non-kinetic military action via social engineering, misinformation and cyberattacks, along with emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and fully autonomous systems. It is based around information, perception and the manipulation of both. A key flag is the use of terms like misinformation and disinformation. The first is bad information being spread, not with any political purpose, that doesn't align with the current official narrative of a country or an entity. Disinformation adds the political component. In comparison, malinformation is factually correct information that an entity doesn't want spread around.

- One tactic for this is the creation of a fake or misleading persona or website. Bots and trolls are examples of these. In China, they have the Western term "50 cent army" -- a large number of people being paid a small amount to push a government narrative. In Britain this is the 77th brigade. The Epoch Times published an article linking this kind of activity to the US Centers for Disease Control. This is also how an army of influencers will attack an individual via social media. Synthetic media is another term to learn. This is where an image, maybe some text, a video or a recording is generated using artificial intelligence products. This results in fake videos, a voice call from someone not who they are pretending to be, or say a fake instrument giveaway from a well-known guitarist, to get money. Some call these deepfakes. As one example, I'm seeing more and more of these using Elon Musk to advertise a product.

- The connected user needs to take extra care when interacting with sites and contacts. Always double-check if you have any concerns.


James Hein is an IT professional with over 30 years' standing. You can contact him at jclhein@gmail.com.

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