back to article How do we combat mass global misinformation? How about making the internet a little harder to use

A friend recently texted me in a panic from Florida, where he’d been consoling relatives following a death in the family. Those relatives had returned a positive COVID-19 test, then a negative test. My friend was exposed to them, so got his own test. It came back negative. His relatives were tested again. Negative. What should …

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  1. tiggity Silver badge

    That's the sort of thing

    to use wikipedia as a starting point (& get a few URLs from its links to explore further)

    Wikipedia is far from perfect, but thats an example of what its useful for

    1. illiad

      Re: That's the sort of thing

      Wikipedia is NOT that trusted, due to many people having 'too much access' to its content... many people online just refuse results from it..

      So I google a lot, and find a **proper website** that has the facts I am looking for.. :)

      brush up on your searching skills, and DO NOT just put random stuff in!!

      NHS and BBC links should be better!! :)

      start here, and you will see the 'advanced' way to use google!

      https://www.google.com/advanced_search

      1. jmch Silver badge

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        Wikipedia is a surprisingly excellent resources for all theings technical. When it starts getting into matters that are a bit more subjective, that phenomenon starts to take over.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: That's the sort of thing

          You can't trust wiki to be authoritative on serious matters. That's why you should always check the Journal of Clanger research if you can't remember the details of the soup dragon

          1. Beeblebrox

            Not that hard to search

            I just searched for 'pcr' on startpage - first result was wiki, second was a .gov page with somewhat reasonable info.

            1. TeeCee Gold badge
              Facepalm

              Re: Not that hard to search

              Yeah, you left out "WHO" and "accuracy". That's where the flame wars come from...

              What would be waaaay more useful than curated[1] search would be lessons on how to use a bleedin' search engine. It's easy to find what you want on the internet if you target your search correctly, leave unnecessary cruft out of your query and then hone your query from the initial results.

              I have found that being able to use a search engine correctly is actually a highly valuable skill these days. I think it's simple, but it would seem that I am in a minority as many do not.

              [1] 'Cos "curated" means cost and "free but crap" always beats "accurate but costs money" on the internet, so any service needing cash to run is always doomed to die though starvation if a free competitor exists.

              1. myhandler

                Re: Not that hard to search

                As a long term user of web search there's vastly more garbage in search results than there used to be. Plenty of you here must have noticed that.

                Some of that may be down to Google's algorithm but mostly that garbage gets views, views make money so they make more garbage.

                Half the rabid sentiment on the net is designed just for clicks and likes.

                It's a self full dumbing shit machine that is consuming us.

              2. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: Not that hard to search

                A few colleges still require students, especially grad students, take a course on how to use a departments library and how to find material.

        2. HildyJ Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: That's the sort of thing - But what's objective?

          Objectivity is in the mind of the searcher and even Wikipedia falls victim to the search for the objective.

          Take Windows versus Linux. Here the answer is clear and many commenters would say it's objective. Elsewhere the reverse applies. Where can you get an objective analysis?

          With vaccines, there are certainly conspiracy theories (Soros, Gates) and there are disproven objections (mercury) but there are also valid concerns, given the speed of their development and approval. Moreover, the emergence of new strains generates new questions (look at South Africa's response). China's view is that you should take their vaccine, the Russians say theirs should be used, the US says take what you can get (as long as it's from China or Russia). Again, where can you get an objective view?

          Lastly, keep in mind that we used to have curated results. It was called Yahoo! It failed because it couldn't keep up with the world and because users wanted more results, not better results, ergo Google.

          1. DS999 Silver badge

            "Speed of development" is a red herring

            They have been working on mRNA vaccines for many years, and mRNA based coronavirus vaccines for many years. This vaccine development was only as quick as it was because of all that previous research which allowed researchers to "plug in" the genetic code of this particular coronavirus strain. For that matter, the ability to quickly sequence DNA/RNA is ALSO something that we've been improving (mostly due to improvements in computing power) over many years and would not have been possible a couple decades ago.

            The net result is that this vaccine didn't go from start to finish a year. It went from start to finish in a decade, but the end product was slightly changed to a different coronavirus strain than originally targeted, and the studies around targeting that new strain were sped up due to 1) finding it MUCH easier to get volunteers due to the importance 2) MUCH faster to determine efficacy due to how much widespread the virus was in everyday life vs trying to test a vaccine for SARS in 2020 3) companies willing to produce (due to governments willing to buy sight unseen) vaccines to be ready for mass deployment the moment approval was received and 4) governments willing to allow and populations willing to accept "emergency approval" instead of waiting longer for long term (usually two years I think?) safety data to be available.

            That last is the only corner that's been cut, but hey if you want to wait two years to assure yourself the vaccine won't somehow cause you to grow a giant spike protein out of your forehead that's your business.

            I expect down the road we'll see multivalent versions that will block all coronavirus strains passed among humans (including even the ones that cause certain types of "common cold") as well any animal ones that we feel could possibly jump to humans in the future.

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

              I think there are lessons to be learnt here.

              Firstly, this is probably the first (very) public outing of the mRNA vaccine work, so against what people have been told about traditional pharmaceutical developments, it does appear to have benefitted from speed of development. A concern moving forward is whether this sows unreasonable expectations in peoples minds about what is achievable, as I suspect people will not connect the dots and remember that having government focus and lots of volunteers etc. also contributed to the rapid delivery of vaccines.

              Secondly, this is also the first public outing of the large volume DNA sequencing that has been going on in the UK, with small 'armies' of sequencing machines, which has lead to the rapid detection of variants; these facilities have shifted from being just tools for researchers etc. to being essential infrastructure needed to combat a pandemic (or biological weapons?).

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                any man and his dog can do sequencing now, the technology it's cheap and readily available. Look how long it took to sequence the human genome back in the 90's it was something like 13 years, now you can get kit the size of a fag packet that connects to a USB port

                1. Roland6 Silver badge

                  Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                  >any man and his dog can do sequencing now...

                  To your average Joe, they probably remember the effort needed to sequence the human genome (was there a Tomorrows World programme on it?).

                  My expectation is thus that after CoViD-19, Joe public will retain the expectation that stuff can be done much quicker so why is xyz (eg. cure for cancer) taking so long.

                  >now you can get kit the size of a fag packet that connects to a USB port

                  Interestingly, an experiment I was pondering was, how to capture airborne particles and analysis these for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 on say an hourly basis. As I suspect that airborne dispersal is the biggest factor in the degree of spreading we've seen during the current lockdown.

            2. jmch Silver badge

              Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

              " populations willing to accept "emergency approval" instead of waiting longer for long term (usually two years I think?) safety data to be available."

              Actually I don't think so. AFAIK around 30% of medical personnel offered the vaccine aren't taking it (US, might be different elsewhere), and in the general population it's not that much different. In France as many as 50% surveyed said they wouldn't take it.

              1. DS999 Silver badge
                Mushroom

                Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                Yeah I don't care about those dimbos. They can catch it and potentially die for all I care - given that the mRNA vaccines are showing pretty much 100% efficacy in preventing hospitalization and death they really do make covid-19 "just the flu" if you're one of the 5% who get it despite getting the shot so once everyone willing to be vaccinated has been then we can go back to normal and whatever spread of coronavirus remains in the population is totally on the vaccine deniers.

                It is even more perfect from that perspective since kids almost never die from it, so their stupid parents will bear all the consequences, not their innocent children who they don't allow to get vaccinated.

                I'm willing to bet most of those who are hesitant are either pre-existing anti-vaxxers, or have been brainwashed into believing covid isn't a problem and we should just open up and let it spread until herd immunity is achieved. Losing some of that crop won't be a loss to the world.

                1. Ken G
                  Thumb Down

                  Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                  I find your post lacking in compassion.

              2. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                "Actually I don't think so. AFAIK around 30% of medical personnel offered the vaccine aren't taking it"

                Did this explain why they weren't taking it? Were they genuinely fearful of the vaccine or were they opting to defer their taking the vaccine so people like the elderly (who have a higher mortality risk) could get it first?

                1. DS999 Silver badge

                  Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                  I'm sure some percentage of them already had covid, but yeah the ones in their 20s and 30s who haven't got it might figure "I know the precautions I've been taking have been working" and be willing to wait a bit so 80 year olds can get their vaccine faster.

                  My mom (age 82, and with a bad heart) got her first shot today, with the second scheduled a month from now. Very happy soon I will no longer have to worry over the possibility she gets it from some idiot anti masker!

              3. MachDiamond Silver badge

                Re: "Speed of development" is a red herring

                I'm in the camp of "wait and see". My concern is how fast the vaccine rushed out the door and most particularly the political aspect. Anytime a politician tries to reassure me about something, the more my Danger Sense skill levels up.

      2. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        @illiad

        It looks like you didn't even read @tiggity's first sentence in its entirety. He did not suggest that anyone trust Wikipedia.

        I.e, use Wikipedia as a *starting point*, and explore the referenced sources.

        Of course there is more to it than that, just as it can take experience to differentiate between a replicated science paper and one that is awaiting review.

      3. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        Wikipedia is NOT that trusted, due to many people having 'too much access' to its content... many people online just refuse results from it..

        So I google a lot, and find a **proper website** that has the facts I am looking for.. :)

        I'd gently suggest reading the comment again - which advises using Wikipedia as a first point of looking for citations and sources. Ignore the article - that list of delicious References down the bottom is worth it's weight in gold.

        1. Ken G

          Re: That's the sort of thing

          The most informative articles are often those where the Talk page is much longer than the content.

      4. 759b954e-617b-408b-a2b1-f5a42c3688d4

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        You trust the BBC? How amusing.

        1. Adelio Silver badge

          Re: That's the sort of thing

          over most other news sources, yes

        2. Spanners Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: That's the sort of thing

          You trust the BBC? How amusing.

          I trust the BBC far more than the Daily Wail, RT, Fox/Sky and so on. I remind myself that the British Government has overall control far greater than it should (thanks Tony Bliar) and while many of the journalists and other staff have varied opinions, their management may not.

      5. low_resolution_foxxes Silver badge

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        Hm, depends what you are searching for on the BBC. I like the org, but they have a steady habit of getting arts grads to write science and technical stuff, so it ends up a little like my dad is trying to teach me IT (a bit painful and misinformed).

        I would honestly take Wikipedia facts above any newspaper in the last 5 years. The quality of journalism in general has crashed since the death of print and the Internet.

        The key factor for successful Web search, is learning how to structure your query to find what you're looking for. You need specific words in a specific order (very hard to explain).

    2. rnturn

      Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

      It's far from uncommon to find that many of the URLs at the bottom of a Wikipedia entry return 404 errors. Nothing makes you wonder about the credibility of an article when you can't check the sources. (This is the sort of thing that used to drive me crazy about some academic papers. "No references? So you came up with this all on your own? Ri-i-ight.")

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

        There's a thing that can help with that. The Wayback Machine. It lets you see what was there when the reference was added, which you can check in the history if it's not written right next to the link which it often is. Also, you can track changes to that page from creation to deletion to see if there's a problem with the source or they've revised the content. Not perfect, but a 404 isn't a dead end unless you try searching about a little first.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

          It's not unknown for the Wayback machine to tell you that the page isn't indexed, it's still online. Not necessarily if it's a real 404, but how many of those do yu see these days? All too often it's a chatty little page that says what you're looking for isn't there, tell the referring page about it. Or else it's a cybersquatter's parking page.

          1. doublelayer Silver badge

            Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

            Doesn't matter. If they've reset it to a 200 which says the page isn't there, the archive may have a copy when it was. If it does, you can and should edit the link to that copy. If not, you can remove the reference and invite a re-citation.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

          >There's a thing that can help with that.

          Yes, I came across a website a few months back, that would retain copies of articles etc. referenced to avoid that very problem. Obviously, it required a little effort to add the article to their repository and generate a link, but it was certainly better than the Wayback Machine.

          Unfortunately, I've forgot to bookmark the site....

          1. rg287 Silver badge

            Re: Wikipedia is far from perfect...

            https://archive.is/ is quite good for that. They don't crawl the web like the wayback machine - a page will only be archived if someone has explicitly submitted it (so no good going back looking for deadlinks, unless you get very lucky). It does tend to do a better job of rendering and snapshotting the page as it appears, which WBM can struggle with on very dynamic pages.

            If you edit wikipedia, it's a good idea to archive your references when you add them - most of the cite templates have boxes available for archive links.

    3. Bruce Ordway

      Re: That's the sort of thing

      I was onsite IT support back in the 90's just as people were discovering the internet.

      So... in addition to be asked to fix A LOT of home PC's, I also fielded questions about what had been read on the internet and if it was true.

      My go to site back then was the Snopes site, and I still rely on it today for my personal sanity.

      e.g. quick search of Snopes for Covid testing...

      https://www.snopes.com/news/2020/05/06/coronavirus-tests-are-pretty-accurate-but-far-from-perfect/

      1. Spanners Silver badge

        Re: That's the sort of thing

        My go to site back then was the Snopes site

        It is still pretty useful. Have a look at how many of the crazies still hate it!

    4. Persona Silver badge

      Re: That's the sort of thing

      Choice of tools matters. If you let a craftsman use sharp tools they can make something wonderful. However someone inept will produce bloodstained rubbish. One grouping of people will then cry out for the tools to be banned.

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: That's the sort of thing

      If you want biographical information on a cinema star, wikipedia might be ok. If you want to get information on rocket nozzle shape vs. atmospheric pressure, you may get taken for a ride (before returning to Earth and exploding). Back in the old days of the tree killers, encyclopedia companies had to research what they printed or wind up with a lot of egg on their face. The down side is they didn't go into very much depth. Web sites are so transient that things get posted and other people copy the mistakes and repost them someplace else.

  2. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

    I am flabberghasted daily that people actually believe what they read in the Press, on the Internet, and what they see on the TV. Are people REALLY that stupid that they believe whatever is put in front of them,.... by someone else? Does it not occur to them that the "someone else" might have a reason for how/what/when it is putting it in front of them? Oh wait, I forgot that we don't seem to teach people to THINK FOR THEMSELVES, rather they are taught to be good little sheeples and everything is made easy for them so they don't have to bother themselves with the effort of thought. I'm no believer in conspiracy theory twaddle but when you see the latest "5G made me pregnant with Alien babies" garbage, just remember that what you saw on the TV News could just as easily have been fabricated/twisted and could have as much to do with reality as the Alien babies drivel.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

      >>>Are people REALLY that stupid<<<

      Yes, unfortunately many are and often struggle to comprehend the complexity of modern life. They provided muscle power pre the industrial revolution and as cannon fodder in wars of conquest, now they're the cannon fodder for information wars, being taken advantage of by groups trying push their fringe beliefs into mainstream society.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Truth is a fringe belief, the vast majority of mainstream media has a hidden agenda of some kind.

        Wikipedia cannot be trusted, esp. wrt articles about people or fringe beliefs.

    2. RockBurner

      Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

      People aren't 'that stupid', they're 'that uneducated'.

      We're taught from birth to 'do what we're told' by parental, and then authority figures, with very little in the way of education about 'how' to process those instructions: Who did they come from? Why was that person saying that thing? What implications are there from that particular person saying that particular thing? etc.

      Anecdotally: I was lucky enough to be deliberately taught critical thinking during History GCSE (at a good school, thank you mum & dad!), and it's served me well to be critical and analytical of what I read in the news media. Always think about:

      "who is stating this?",

      "Why are they stating this?",

      "Who are they stating this too?",

      "When are they stating this?",

      "What are they not stating?",

      "Does the audience change the message, or the delivery of the message?",

      "What implications are there of the way the message has been changed?",

      "What are other people stating about this message, to whom, when, why?" etc etc etc.

      1. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

        @Rockburner. Nope. IMHO, the reverse is more likely to be the case. The days of taught belief in "Authority" ended in 1964. Once the belief that reality can be different for individuals to the point that feminist glaciology is supposedly a real subject the ability to discern and assess information is long gone. As for checking and multiple sources, regrettably I find GBS aphorism more succinct. " Believe nothing until it is officially denied" Unfortunately that does mean sources that are sometimes accurate (ie, in accordance with the reality that hurts when it hits you on head) are missed in the welter of dross. Yes, I do cross check where it matters, However, I note search engines, Google especially, are now becoming nearly useless for search unless one has a good idea of the relevant keywords to exclude

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

          > The days of taught belief in "Authority" ended in 1964

          Ha! I wish! It was still around at least when I was in school in the mid-'80s, with the single shining exception of one teacher who tried to teach us to think for ourselves. From listening to friend's children, it's still around.

        2. illiad

          Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

          As I said above.. https://www.google.com/advanced_search will show you how to add 'parameters' to your search, to get a good result..

          Think,(NO, seriously!!!!) when you get your first car, do you just jump in, and start pressing stuff, hoping thing happen?? crash a lot, break a lot, your arm, feet, someones fence....

          I am sure you know what you have to do FIRST!!! :) :)

          and then many do not seem to have heard of ECDL....

          https://www.distance-learning-centre.co.uk/european-computer-driving-licence-ecdl-online-course/

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

            "I am sure you know what you have to do FIRST!!! :) :)"

            If it's something other than "sit down," we may have a problem...

            1. RockBurner

              Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

              Find handle, Open door?

              1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

                For some people, even that's too hard, yet if we don't hand-hold, they could end up taking us with them.

          2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

            Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

            Blatant misrepresentation, they should be in nick.

            A license is legal or contractual permission to use a resource, without which you are acting illegally or in breach of contract.

            It is *NOT* illegal to use a computer without a license.

            The ECDL is a certificate of computer use ability, ****NOT***** a license. How they are allowed to claim or call it is a license is astounding, there should be all manner of laws they are breaking. Here, I'll write "TAXI" on this bit of paper and call it a taxi license.

            1. Alumoi Silver badge

              Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

              I don't know about you, but in my country ECDL is a certificate of Microsoft Windows & Office use ability,

              NOT a computer use ability.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

          What has changed to some extent is which authorities people believe in, although most people still believe the main messages put out by their own governments. And it is still true that the bigger the lie, the easier it is to get people to believe it. It's not only specific events and widely believed facts that you should question, but also various core beliefs that are taken by most in Western countries to be beyond controversy. Such as democracy being the best form of government. And the Western notion of work-ethic (hard work should be rewarded, it is generally wrong to get something without working for it, and laziness has bad consequences). Both beliefs being contradicted by many facts that show the opposite is frequently true.

          Almost everyone these days believes that slavery is abhorrant, yet fails to see that things really have not changed at all since the days of slavery other than the ethnicity of the slaves - it's just been re-named and disguised. There is little difference between forcing people to work for no pay (but providing them with necessities to keep them alive), and giving people Hobson's choice between being penniless and homeless or working hard in return for a wage that will just about pay for food, clothing and shelter. "Freedom" for the a huge proportion of people is the biggest lie of all - but they believe it.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Trust nothing, check your data, use various sources.

            That work ethic notion stems from the heady days of the Roman empire and has been resurrected over the centuries by various bands of religious fundamentalists. It's not just work but sex too, i.e. an acceptable coupling and chastity being rewarded by societal recognition of one's offspring. Rather than teach people to not be intensely jealous when they see someone else have it better then them (like a child), instead change the rules so that no one can appear to have it better than anyone else.

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