In the last 12 months the ease at which information can be manipulated, misconstrued and supressed has never been so stark. We are in an age of misinformation, or what I prefer to call MISINF and it is getting worse. I am a regular user of social media, mostly to keep abreast of business topics that are relevant to the work that I do. However, it has become difficult not to become distracted by the sheer volume of posts about the current pandemic. It is also becoming challenging to separate fact from fiction.
Most worryingly, I have personally witnessed respected professionals having posts and accounts completely removed from the platforms managed by the so-called tech giants, YouTube (owned by Google), Facebook and Twitter. Their crime? They expressed an opinion or asked questions that go against the established narrative. I am also aware from my own testing that certain results are not available via Google search, but you are able to them using alternatives such as DuckDuck Go. Why this is happening is subject to much speculation but is certainly a significant threat to true democracy.
I like to think that my personal views are middle of the road and moderate. However, I like to read widely, and take the time to review articles that challenge my own internal value systems. I want to be able to form my own unbiased, balanced opinions, not what is served up to me on page 1 of a search engine. Where there is online abuse, racial hatred and bullying there is no place for it online, it should be removed in the same way it would be in the analogue world. Deletion of content because an online platform decides it doesn’t like it is an entirely different story. Byte-burning, as I have heard this online suppression and manipulation referred to is a worrying trend. The term is a nod to the book burning conducted by the Nazi’s in the 1930’. If we as investigators are unaware of what is happening, and why, then our product lacks value for our clients.
How then do we combat misinformation and find the information we need? Firstly, it is vital to understand the technology we are using, what the Internet is, what the World Wide Web is and how it is structured. Next, understand that not all online information is accessible using search engines alone. Finally, and fundamentally, to have a means of critically evaluating the information you find. All this is covered on my Internet Investigative Skills for Due Diligence course. If you want to know more, please get in touch.