How do we counter the rapid pace of false socially propagated information spread in the Internet?

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Written by Fred Cohen (the man who originally coined the term “computer virus”)

No solution is perfect, but defense against propaganda is not an option. It is a survival necessity.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the world is underway. At the end of the day, controlling what people think about (i.e., focus of attention), and what they think about it, can lead to the widest range of changes in the human condition.

The mechanisms of spread of mental viruses (memes) is essentially no different for truths than for falsehoods. But the ability to generate lies at a rapid pace far exceeds the ability to detect the difference between truth and lies. Generating the truth is not required, as it generates itself, but communicating it does require the truth to take place, be observed, and be accurately reported. Testing ground truth requires actual effort and time as well as a trust and attribution mechanisms if each individual is not to have to verify it on their own.

As in the case for computer viruses, spread of memes can be limited by limiting sharing, transitivity (the ability to retransmit what you received), or functionality (the ability to use what is received). But if the goal is not perfection but rather reduction, the spread of infectious
disease can be slowed by a range of other approaches, including reducing the infection rate, slowing the movement of carriers, selective isolation, reduction of susceptibility, rapid detection and response (e.g., with antimemetics), changes in motivation, reputation combined
with attribution, and traceability combined with compensating correction. Presentation of such results is also important and combinations of these are also applicable.

Regardless of perspective, there is objective truth. To find this out, anybody can perform a simple experiment. One at a time, blindfold 100 people. Spin them around slowly, eventually pointing them in a random direction within an area with a wall in half the directions and open space in other directions. Tell them to walk forward. Half of them will bump into a wall. If the ones walking toward the walls pass through those walls, then their perception, which lacks any information about the existence of the wall, is the reality. If they bump into the walls, or those not walking toward walls bump into walls, then perception is indeed truth. Does anyone believe that people will walk through walls based on their perception?

Today, liars and those wishing to cause false perceptions by the use of memes are far more resourced than those wishing to seek and spread the objective truth. Indeed this happens at many levels and across a broad spectrum.

Those wishing to take advantage of others by deception and “perception management” spend a great deal investing in research and its systematic application. Those seeking to promote the truth spend very little and so so poorly.

Freedom of speech, particularly political speech, is important to a free society. But unless and until we adequately resource truth and counter-deception, we will apparently fall further and further down the deception trap. Perhaps we will fall so far that it will be ages before objective truth returns, and perhaps we will kill ourselves as a race before we finish. Deception about climate change, disease, nuclear weapons, pollution, food, and water, and mass extinctions, may cause the extinction of the human race.

Memes can be controlled by injection and suppression of information reaching targets. When applied to lies, this is another name for deception. To benefit truth, selective suppression of deception and induction of truth is required. Who controls the selection mechanism then controls the spread of memes, and this is power over the thought process of the body politic and ultimately the society writ large. Today, memes in the Internet are used largely to induce falsehoods and suppress truth in target audiences.

The truth costs more and takes longer, while deception is more highly funded and supported. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of
evil is for good men to do nothing.” It is a matter of belief based on and backed with evidence, that the truth is more beneficial to more people than lies directed against them by those who would use these lies to gain power, influence, and riches for themselves at the expense of others.

— For a more detailed discussion, see