Juha Saarinen is a tech blogger for nzherald.co.nz.

Juha Saarinen: John Key kidnapped and other fake news

A fake news story was a top Google search result following the election. Picture / Google
A fake news story was a top Google search result following the election. Picture / Google

John Key was kidnapped in Peru by drug lords along with other heads of state and is held hostage in a mountainous area". If you saw that message on social media, you might just think it's true, especially if it was accompanied by a link.

Key's in Peru, a country that produces large amounts of cocaine with violent drug lords running that business.

As it seems plausible, you share the message with friends and others, it goes back and forth on social media and some people give it the benefit of doubt.

Thanks to the power and reach of social media, in a short amount of time, maybe thousands of people have seen the message with some of them taking action based on what it says, like dumping their shares or cancelling business transactions before the false news is wound back.

Call it fake news, post-truth or trolls that got Donald Trump elected, the amount of disinformation on the internet is becoming dangerous, and weaponised.

New Zealand would be vulnerable to cyber-disseminated lies and half-truths, the release of which could do a great deal of damage if timed right.

For instance, a malicious adversary could hijack #eqnz on social media and start issuing fake quake and tsunami warnings online.

Bogus news and outright lies to deceive the public are nothing new. The amplification that the internet and social media bring to fake news is only now receiving the attention it deserves, however.

The internet echo chamber is a cheap, effective weapon, with countries around the world building "cyber armies" - troll farms is a better term - to cause disruption and to influence national politics of other nations by spreading disinformation.

Information obtained through hacks and released out of context (and sometimes redacted) is another avenue of influence and disinformation to subvert the democratic process. It's enough of a worry for other nations, such as the European Union and NATO countries, which are planning to set up a hybrid warfare centre in Finland to counter the above sort of "cybering" from Russia and extremists.

New Zealand needs to be prepared as it is pretty much certain that a disinformation campaign will happen. It could be a nation state, or a powerful commercial interest, or both trying to influence events here in their favour. It'll be difficult to achieve something that's apparent in the Harmful Digital Communications act which aims to protect individuals against online trolls, and tries to do so without tipping the balance towards full-on censorship and suppressing free speech.

Tempting as it might be, we can't just switch off the internet because of hackers and trolls. Somehow we must figure out how to deal with the bad while keeping the good bits.
Now would be a good time to start the discussion though, with media, government and social networks among others taking parts before The Internet of Lies grows too strong.

- NZ Herald

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