Cybercrime and Fake News Threaten Our Reality

Picture 11Online readers have a tough decision to make when they read anything – online or in print. The vast body of material now available online makes it difficult to weed out the “real” from the “fake” or, as journalists would call it, lies or fabrications.

Making Decisions When Nothing Is ‘Set in Stone’

Before internet publications, printing allowed time to verify details before the information hit the page. When a mistake in print was made, it was usually followed by a retraction or correction- with an overt apology or implication of regret for the error. When things get iffy is when a fact can be considered true – until it is subtly changed when some proof arises that the fact is not solid.

The situation recalls George Orwell’s “1984,” where some unseen government decision-maker fabricated which country was the ally and which the enemy. The enemy yesterday could be today’s ally. And, everyone was brainwashed to believe the thought of that moment, which could change multiple times on a given day.

Manipulation of information to influence public opinion with falsehoods is a crime. Today, cybercrimes abound, which leaves much of information in question. Can we trust the information? What can we believe so that we can make an informed decision?

Verifying the Truth – Or Can We?

Anyone who studied middle school science might have learned about the scientific method. Test things and follow the details until you arrive at a conclusion. With the advent of the internet and the massive volume of materials available, that becomes harder to do. People tend to find sources they trust and believe them.

What happens when cybercrimes subtly change reality with just enough of a hint of facts so that the fiction being spread seems to be believable? Whenever media con artists explain how they do their best work, the master always says to stay with the truth as much as possible so it’s harder to be caught in a lie. Cunning cybercriminals tempt us with just enough of the truth to make us swallow the fictions.

Separating the Fake News From the Real

Things move quickly in the cyberworld. Leaked documents tell us the real information, but people who spread the reality have broken the law. Government claims become suspect.

Using anti-malware and antivirus protection might weed out some of the grossest falsehoods, but when they are perpetrated everywhere, how do you decide? It’s like the old party game of telephone, where someone shared a secret and by the time the tenth person heard the secret it had grown to epic proportions and changed completely.

Taking a moment to step back and questioning the likelihood of the truth takes time. What we can only trust is that the truth can – eventually – come out, if only with anti-propaganda and fact-checking to combat the falsehoods.

Can the “good guys” win? We’d like to hope so, but time, money, and the truth are not as easy to verify as they used to be. And, years later, you might discover what you thought the truth was kept secret to protect some special interest.

Picture 12Protecting Your Sources and Your Equipment

If, for years, you’ve been reading information from sources you trust, make sure your digital sources are connected to the correct URLs. With spamming, phishing, and other digital scams, making sure you have the right connection is important. The “fake” information can look so real!

Also, protecting your own hardware and software is paramount. A security consultant who teaches at a university said that even your printer can become the repository for malware that can affect your entire computer system. It might take replacing whole systems and starting from scratch – or a highly rated security consultant or firm – to create a system that is more secure.

As a businessperson, using software and hardware to keep your documents and data intact and invulnerable is nearly impossible. However, using sensible approaches, like limiting business equipment to business-only use, checking connections with business trading partners and sources, and installing the most highly-rated anti-malware and antivirus protection is essential.

The cybercrime that spreads falsehoods can make us trust no one or anything we learn. But, trying to debunk every bit of “fake news” is time-consuming and exhausting. Instead, use precautions and take what you read with a giant grain of salt.

Melissa Thompson
Melissa Thompson writes about a wide range of topics, revealing interesting things we didn't know before. She is a freelance USA Today producer, and a Technorati contributor.