Unknowingly, the human race has slipped into the Third World War.
This time, the battlefields aren’t in Europe or even the Middle East. They’re right in front of you: your desktop computer, your laptop or tablet. The battle is even being waged on your smartphone.
It turns out that Russians aren’t the only ones meddling in elections. Cambridge Analytica, the company currently embroiled in a data scandal with Facebook, has been exposed in a British news documentary as being a meddler-for-hire in elections around the world.
An undercover investigation by Channel 4 News shows the firm’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, claiming the firm secretly influenced more than 200 elections in countries around the world.
Methods range from entrapping politicians in compromising situations with bribes or sex workers to the simple method of spreading misinformation.
“I mean, it sounds a dreadful thing to say, but these are things that don’t necessarily need to be true, as long as they’re believed,” Nix told the undercover reporter in a hidden camera interview.
Cambridge Analytica — which was also employed by Donald Trump’s campaign — denies the reports, but true or not, it’s an insight into how easy it is to sway and mould opinions. And we can be sure that some group — perhaps many — is manipulating opinion behind the scenes.
The tools of this war aren’t guns and bombs, but websites and whispers.
Remember when Pope Francis endorsed Trump’s campaign for U.S. president? Never happened, but the fake website that posted the made up story got plenty of hits, both making lots of money for the man who created the site, and no doubt influencing the election.
There is no easy way to fight back against purposefully spread misinformation, no soldiers to man the barricades, no laws to send perpetrators to jail.
The only defence is in your head. Don’t believe something just because it sounds true, or you want to believe it — think critically.