Fake identities and fake opinions

Don't believe everything you read in the newspapers!

Author and journalist Edward Lucas has written a fascinating analysis of fake news in The Times today. (You can access it here  but you will need to register to read the full story.)

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He starts by giving the example of a website, CGS Monitor. Its stated mission is to examine the opinions shaping US policy and it lists a number of serious experts in the area including a Ukraine based Atlantic Council fellow, Brian Mefford. This comes as a surprise to Mr Mefford who is not an advisor to the site and has asked (unsuccessfully) for his name to be removed.

The trouble is that managing your identity online is difficult. It is very easy to hijack an identity but not so easy to get it back again once it has been hijacked. (Teiss can give you some advice on how to do this in our forthcoming workshop of reputation management scheduled for 8 June). This is because “On the internet No one knows you are a dog.”

In other words I can easily say I am you, register a few social media profiles in your name (it is not surprising that people create fake social media profiles of celebrities but what is perhaps surprising is the number of them), an email address that sounds like you, some directory listings and perhaps a website. Or, as CGS Monitor did, I can simply claim that you are one of my experts. And there is very little you can do about this.

Of course if I have managed to access some real personal data about you it’s going to be a lot easier for me to pretend credibly that I am you than if I just make things up. For instance if I have access to your real social media accounts (because I have stolen your password) I can post whatever I like and people, or at least some people, will think that what I am posting is your opinion.

This is one reason why online privacy is such an important issue and why the new GDPR rules will be very beneficial to consumers, even if they cause businesses a few headaches. Edward Lucas is talking about GDPR at the forthcoming Teiss conference on 21 February and will explain the likely implications for businesses and the changes that will have to be made to the way they currently work. Worth listening to, not least because many businesses are woefully under prepared and because for many businesses the amount of time need to prepare may well be over 21 months.

For the rest of us though, we need to think about the degree to which we almost instinctively trust what we read. Especially on the internet.