A web of illusions

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We all know that big brother is watching – for some this provides a sense of comfort yet for others it is a distinct violation of their human rights.

I suspect that most people feel somewhere in-between, conscious that their privacy is slowly eroding as communication technologies become the default channel yet unaware of the warning signs of experiences with low levels of integrity.

Personally I’m fine if government wants to harvest any communication that I put out in the public domain, particularly if it was for the greater benefit. But it would be a step too far if they actually used those insights to profile me for another reason or contact me about my interests.

I have no idea if my information seeking behaviour (e.g. Google search history and web browsing history) is being recorded centrally somewhere but I’m pretty sure that it would paint a very personal and in-depth account of my life pattern. My digital fingerprint, the websites that I go to every day and my web traits, can even reveal my identity no matter where I am in the world. Perhaps it’s time to randomise my surfing pattern!

However, there’s much more at stake than surveillance. What if a digital mastermind can change laws or bring down governments? What if digital narratives can be used to predict the future? What if social media can be used for entrapment or to bring about a citizen revolution?  What if a camera that is watching you can actually read your mind?

I’ve been fascinated by the role of ‘spooks’ and their exploits of social media, digital engagement and the digital democracy agenda for some time now. During my stint in and around government I’ve seen some unusual things happen but never enough to pinpoint the fact among the fiction. However, I’m certain that the information or ideas in this paper are not new. In-fact, I would be more surprised if these exploits are not being orchestrated by governments, worldwide.

The problem is, if we are so vulnerable in our use of digital communication technologies, should we still be using them? I guess the answer is that other forms of communication are equally as vulnerable.

However, my real concern is that the potential of digital manipulation is much more subtle and powerful than before.  Call it digital psychology if you like.  Even worse, there are few safeguard on existing digital democracy platforms implemented by governments and little challenge by citizens of facts circulated in social media.

On the flipside, digital engagement and digital democracy could be manipulated to create a strategic advantage or in defence or the fight against terrorism. It is clear to me that managing new levers of power which are herald by an internet age are going to be challenging in the wake of an army of keyboard warriors.

The web pretends to broaden our worldview, but really it represents a control revolution.

In this paper we touch on the many and varied opportunities for manipulating the web and provide recent example of them in action.

The black swan theory or theory of black swan events is a metaphor that describes an event that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalised after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

But what about the reverse? A surprise event that didn’t really happen but is corroborated by the web and triggers a major effect…and is later dispelled by traditional media.  This sort of “false flag” event is possible the ultimate weapon of this century.

Welcome to the age of information deception


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