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 …

  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.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

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

              "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."

              Well, legitimacy of children becomes important for legal reasons (inheritance, for starters). Also, jealousy of a rival tends to go to instinct and thus is HARD to teach out (I mean, the picture of your rival marrying and having successful kids instead of you hits home). If you can't teach it out, the next best thing is to cover it up before envy starts fights...

        4. Pete B

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

          "Once the belief that reality can be different for individuals... "

          Once you get into Relational Quantum Mechanics this is taken as a given!

      2. Flak

        Add: Who benefits?

        To me, that is one of the key questions and will in most cases shed light on the other points in your list.

        If you don't know the answer, keep digging. If it does not become clear, that should be a warning sign in itself.

        Follow the money...

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

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

        "I was lucky enough to be deliberately taught critical thinking during History GCSE"

        Which is why I think the Yes (Prime) Minister Diaries should be set books in English. Amusing enough to catch interest (unlike the Jane Austin etc on which I failed English Litt) and enough to provoke a critical look at "authority".

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Valid but with caveats

      How many trusted sites are behind paywalls now, but spam propaganda sites open and heavily SEO'd?

      It's very related to the subject of the article, and its a big problem.

      They can check the top ten sites on their search engines and all will be spam propaganda sometimes, with little actually readable data from real websites.

      I use to use Qwant, but it was unusable during the US elections. Results were heavily spammed with political propaganda websites, some literally two months old. It's not just the US elections, Belarus Democracy protests returned attack sites denouncing the protestors, Wikipedia on Belarus, the official website etc. but almost nothing of actual detail on the state of protests.

      I had to abandon Qwant, too vulnerable to spam during critical times. I note it seems to be cleaner now, but too late.

      How many websites now have their walls up:

      You click a link and the website says "you are in privacy mode.... login to ..." nope, bye.

      Or "prove you are not a robot by selecting..." nope bye.

      "Wait while cloudflare checks your brows...." nope bye.

      "You have reached your limit for free articles, come back tomorrow..." er, no thanks I won't.

      It's self defeating. They could put generic ads on their web pages since I'm in privacy mode, instead they block or set puzzles or whatever. But I opened the top twenty links on the search engine in twenty tabs ready to look for information, I won't wait for their obstacles. After a while, users learn simply to never visit the problem sites, and save themselves even the click. They don't even get to push generic ads to me.

      But fewer clicks, mean lower rankings and over time the website slips down and down the search engine rankings.

      And you end up with a world of spam on your search engines. The search engines everyone uses double check their data.

      But yes, I agree with the basic DOUBLE CHECK EVERYTHING, apply some common sense. These are good tenets to live by, I just wish the proper news sites would realize that eyeballs are everything and if they lose the volume, they lose the cream with it.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

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

      I'm really surprised that you're surprised. People have always believed external sources, since the times when that mammoth kill happened out of their own, personal sight (it fought like hell, but then, our glorious leader took a mighty swing and killed the beast, etc.)

      HOW do you expect anyone can personally verify how many people really got the jab (jab, what jab?!), or whether 2,500 people really have become a part of a business deal today (by being kicked out of their jobs)? How are they supposed to verify that those smiling, well-spoken leaders they voted for, are lying cunts (other than, by default, assuming that all politicians are lying cunts), unless they happen to be directly hit by those lies? How can they verify ryanair lies to them (other than assuming it's a default ryanair mode), and how can they verify that the ICO supposed to chase scam callers did their job, other than by pretending to do their job by producing a fat, 464pages pdf file to show they did? Etc.

      On top of the rather obvious fact that people are stupid AND lazy and the avalanche of conflicting information comes from their mobile, computer and telly, all at once. But all this is moot, "This is the world we live in..."

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

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

        But before the internet you could trust it is tribal elder said eating mammoth with cloven hoof make sky God mad, now people are expected to do their own research

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

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

          [...] now people are expected to do their own research [...]"

          Misinformation is a tribal shibboleth. If you want/need to belong to that tribe then you have to pay at least lip service to their shibboleths. Better still - proselytise to show people (and yourself) how loyal you are to the tribe.

          Doing your own "research" often means going to your tribe's leaders and asking them what you should believe.

          A young friend with a penchant for reason and facts joined a university Christian debating group. He finally realised he had hit a brick wall when a young lady smiled sweetly and said "The Devil sends people like you to test our faith".

          A neighbour pursued the idea of Creation in conversation. I outlined the argument of "The Creator Recursion" and "Occam's Razor". A few days later she dropped a small booklet through the door. Her religion's official explanation about how their god created everything - and they were the chosen few who would go to an afterlife.

    5. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

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

      Being "Intar-web Street-Wise" is *THE* solution.

      "A sucker born every minute" - and twice as likely on-line.

      Here's what _I_ think: Question _EVERYTHING_, especially when EVERYONE *APPEARS* TO BE SAYING THE SAME THING...

      The only protection, for you, from "Teh Intarwebs", is YOUR BRAIN.

      (but of course, THIS assumes that INDiVIDUALS are personally responsible for their OWN lives, and lacks an elitist point of view that "the elites" should be "making it safe" for "the prols" because they're not smart enough to do it for themselves)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

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

        Well, what about those who don't HAVE brains? No man is an island, after all. How do you fix Stupid before Stupid takes the rest of us with them?

    6. CrackedNoggin Bronze badge

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

      Mostly, I think, they think they've 'discovered' it. The confirmation criterion for their discovery is that it's something they didn't know a few minutes earlier, a dopamine rush, alignment with subconscious prejudices and desires, and the instictive appeal groupthink. It's not so hard to understand WHY that happens. Looking back through history it clearly isn't a new phenomena. Even in staid science, occasionally a researcher will be led astray the same underlying forces.

  3. Wellyboot Silver badge
    Childcatcher

    Teach people?

    Do you spend more time online or typing than hand writing? We teach hand writing from an early age because that ability is the second of two ways (talking is the other one*) we communicate, we generally don't teach typing, expecting everyone to pick it up as they go because its just another way of writing.

    Search engines are 'the' way most people interact with the world these days, maybe we should start teaching a few pertinent subjects as standard from an early age such as critical thinking, conjecture not being evidence, biased language etc. as part of the language curriculum. The power of language is why 'The pen is mightier than the sword', we have to think our way past conspiracy theories because censorship is a really slippery slope.

    Cynically I think it'll never happen, the politicos who'd make these decisions would have to up their game to include rational well thought out arguments instead of knee jerk phrasing and innuendo.

    *please don't raise mime to being a valid communication method.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Teach people?

      How about interpretive dance?

      More seriously, we changed the driving test to include some satnav type details.

      It's far past time we started teaching "Internet survival" in school. It's obvious that most parents aren't - or more likely can't - do that.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Teach people?

        interpretive dance?

        Isn't that just mime to music 8^)

      2. Denarius Silver badge

        Re: Teach people?

        @Richard. After removing time wasting rubbish first so the poor teachers have time in curriculum to teach critical thinking

        1. Glen 1 Silver badge

          Re: Teach people?

          "removing time wasting rubbish"

          One persons rubbish is another persons trigonometry/history

          Personally, I think civil rights movements (eg BLM) are important enough to be taught about in schools. However some of them come under the heading of "Sociology" and is therefore sneered at by some.

      3. MJI Silver badge

        Re: Teach people?

        I do not want to take another driving test. (Hopefully will be OK to when I stop)

        Drive by satnav.

        "I am just going to get my sledgehammer"

        Driving on wrong side of road

        "Never done it in 40 years, stupid idea"

        There are so many driving things I never do and will not do, don't test me on them.

      4. 2+2=5 Silver badge

        Re: Teach people?

        > It's far past time we started teaching "Internet survival" in school.

        It's ironic that in a thread about the importance of doing your own research you post an un-researched claim ;-)

        UK Primary schools have been teaching about the Internet and how to use it safely for several years now, as part of the PSHE element of the National Curriculum. From page 19 which covers Media literacy & digital resilience:

        For key stage 1 (age 5-6) the learning objectives are:

        L7. about how the internet and digital devices can be used safely to find things out and to communicate with others

        L8. about the role of the internet in everyday life

        L9. that not all information seen online is true

        and for key stage 2 (age 7-10):

        L6. about the different groups that make up their community; what living in a community means

        L7. to value the different contributions that people and groups make to the community

        L8. about diversity: what it means; the benefits of living in a diverse community; about valuing diversity within communities

        L9. about stereotypes; how they can negatively influence behaviours and attitudes towards others; strategies for challenging stereotypes

        L10. about prejudice; how to recognise behaviours/actions which discriminate against others; ways of responding to it if witnessed or experienced

        L11. recognise ways in which the internet and social media can be used both positively and negatively

        L12. how to assess the reliability of sources of information online; and how to make safe, reliable choices from search results

        L13. about some of the different ways information and data is shared and used online, including for commercial purposes

        L14. about how information on the internet is ranked, selected and targeted at specific individuals and groups; that connected devices can share information

        L15. recognise things appropriate to share and things that should not be shared on social media; rules surrounding distribution of images

        L16. about how text and images in the media and on social media can be manipulated or invented; strategies to evaluate the reliability of sources and identify misinformation

        This is clearly an ambitious set of topics but they provide a foundation for secondary schools to build on.

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Re: Teach people?

          Statutory from Sept 2020. (Though I'm not certain how much is completely new and what was there last year)

          In other words, it's barely started yet. Possibly not at all, given the current situation!

          It's a start. Way too late, but a start nonetheless.

      5. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        Re: Teach people?

        "It's far past time we started teaching "Internet survival" in school."

        My kids were learning that from their first year in school. They called it internet safety then, but within a couple of years it became how to question stuff and query sources. It's just a normal state school so I presume it's standard syllabus stuff - in the UK that is.

  4. Chris Miller

    It's like someone has never heard of Google Scholar for searching academic results.

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      Aye, there's nothing quite as useful as an 'Academic result' when all you see in most cases is a hundred-word preamble paragraph leading to a ridiculously priced pdf of the actual paper... and in many cases you have no idea as to whether the paper is actually what you were looking for in the first place, or one of the dozens of 'meta studies' that just add up other scholars papers.

      Elsevier and their ilk should be ashamed of themselves. ArXiv is to be commended.

      1. RockBurner

        Just because it's a published academic particle, doesn't mean it's relevant. Academia has evolved to be somewhat self-serving.

        https://www.smbc-comics.com/comic/science-fictions

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

          Academia has it's own problems - I've been reading papers for years, essentially the writers have a viewpoint that they believe is supported by evidence and while this is normally correct and the evidence is good, it don't mean that their viewpoint is accurate. Academics are not normally engineers or technicians and so things can occur when the data is being collected that they have no ideas about.

          1. sreynolds

            Yeah they are behind a giant paywall for one. Remeber schwartz? Wasn't the Theranos "technology" based on peer reviewed research?

            1. sreynolds

              Academia is more of a cult. They seem to worship people.

              Also, the need to publish means that they recycle other stuff a lot. Not to mention that it takes you a long time to learn the lingo of a new field.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Academics are not normally engineers or technicians and so things can occur when the data is being collected that they have no ideas about."

            People are people. There are a large number of apparently rational technical people who have no desire to look below the surface of the abstraction that suits them. Their favourite idea is always the one they will shoehorn into the current problem. They don't ignore things wilfully - it is just the way they are wired.

            A colleague was renowned for doing that on software bugs. One day they gave me a lift in their car. Often at a "Give Way" junction - they would turn their head in the direction of potential crossing traffic - while closing their eyes.

  5. don't you hate it when you lose your account Silver badge

    The death of Google search

    For me, was when I realised people were typing in there own names in the hope of some sort of emotional boost.

    1. DwarfPants
      Coat

      Re: The death of Google search

      My reason for googling myself is to make sure I don't appear.

      Mine is the one with the turned up collar and the Fedora.

      1. My-Handle Silver badge

        Re: The death of Google search

        This one's mine -->>

      2. Beeblebrox
        Black Helicopters

        Re: The death of Google search

        "My reason for googling myself is to make sure I don't appear."

        Now you are recorded in their search logs.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The death of Google search

        > My reason for googling myself is to make sure I don't appear.

        I'm currently in a job search so I Google myself to see what some HR droid might turn up. Fortunately, as of late, I'm either a mayor or an entertainer. In years past, before a high school reunion, searches for myself came up with more, um, interesting things like felony convictions or being a male p0rn star. Or I've died. (Any of those would have made for an interesting reunion experience.)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The death of Google search

      It was kind of fun when I came top on a search for my name, but that was 16 years ago. Still my sentence is nearly served so I will be noteworthy again soon enough.

  6. Whitter
    Devil

    Blind spots

    "It’s harder to anticipate blind spots that only become apparent in moments of greatest need. "

    Harder still to 'spot' those you never, erm, spot, 'cos they're blind spots.

    1. Denarius Silver badge

      Re: Blind spots

      @Whitter: See CS Lewis essay: "In Praise of old Books"

      1. Danny 2 Silver badge

        Re: Blind spots

        CS Lewis essay: "In Praise of old Books"

        It looks like there aren't many great matches for your search

        Tip Try using words that might appear on the page that you’re looking for. For example, 'cake recipes' instead of 'how to make a cake'.

        Need help? Take a look at other tips for searching on Google.

        Now I want cake.

      2. CuChulainn

        Re: Blind spots

        It works a lot better if you use the search term C S Lewis essays In Praise of old Books though.

  7. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    FAIL

    Strawman

    More fluff from Pesce. Presumably he's being paid by some kind of company to promote the benefits of curation.

    Now, when we need to find something of vital importance, we can’t.

    But we can. Want to find out about PCR tests? Why not use the curated resources of the CDC? NB. I used Google to find the website of the CDC. Whether it's possible for most people to understand things like test sensitivity, etc. is another matter.

    Google became more popular than Yahoo, Altavista, Excite, etc. precisely because it wasn't "curated". It proved itself more reliable than the pay-to-pay services. And SEO spam (mainly for porn and dodgy medicines) has been around as long as search engines have. Google has a vested interest in weeding out poor results as a way to demonstrate that its suitability for advertisters. But, as long as there is a market for quackery, there will be a supply.

    1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Strawman

      More fluff from Pesce.

      Quite possibly.

      "so I typed the following into a search box: “WHO PCR COVID test accuracy”...and got back a tsunami of conspiracy and antivax propaganda."

      That certainly isn't true for me. The first page of search results I get are from the BMJ, health.harvard.edu, the Lancet, cochrane.org, fullfact.org and the UK and Scottish goverments. With the possible exception of the last two :-) none of them are known for conspiracy theories or antivax bullshit.

      1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

        Re: Strawman

        What a strange perspective

        It can also be said that “Amnesty International” for most people, is not known for conspiracy theories, and yet they collaborated the Nayirah testimony which was complete fabrication by the daughter of a kuwaiti diplomat.

        What you’re doing is known as “appealing to authority”

        These established institutions you hold so highly, they contain people right?

        I dont hold people to such high regards, I think they’re snakes if given half the chance

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Strawman

        That certainly isn't true for me. The first page of search results I get are from the BMJ, health.harvard.edu, the Lancet, cochrane.org, fullfact.org and the UK and Scottish goverments. With the possible exception of the last two :-) none of them are known for conspiracy theories or antivax bullshit.

        But are you any wiser as to why a PCR test showed different results? Luckily we have 'fact checkers'-

        https://www.factcheck.org/2021/01/scicheck-viral-posts-distort-who-guidance-on-covid-19-tests/

        A recent memo from the World Health Organization designed for lab professionals became a major focus of misinformation — with unreliable websites and social media users claiming the agency had changed a testing protocol and admitted that COVID-19 cases have been wildly inflated.

        But neither of those claims is accurate.

        So obviously the person is both positive and negative. And out of pocket for a couple of tests. And negative tests are now becoming a thing in order to travel across borders. Or get a fancy Covid passport because you've tested negative, or been vaccinated.

        But 'fact check' helpfully links to the WHO memo that helped spark the controversy-

        https://www.who.int/news/item/20-01-2021-who-information-notice-for-ivd-users-2020-05

        WHO guidance Diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2 states that careful interpretation of weak positive results is needed (1). The cycle threshold (Ct) needed to detect virus is inversely proportional to the patient’s viral load. Where test results do not correspond with the clinical presentation, a new specimen should be taken and retested using the same or different NAT technology.

        And factcheck interprets that as a memo to RTFM, and does a bit of a gish-gallop around the issues. Which is another rabbit hole. So the media has spent the last year confusing people, and running daily killcounts, or 'case' counts. A 'case' is a positive test result, rather than a sick person, which is the more normal definition. So with contradictory results, the person's confused. Or possibly in trouble if a positive result means mandatory isolation and they risk large fines for breaking quarantine. Or messes up data if it's a false positive. But the issue is this-

        The cycle threshold (Ct) needed to detect virus is inversely proportional to the patient’s viral load

        So the more cycles, the more sensitive the test. Or a positive result with fewer cycles would indicate a high viral load. Which would also tend to indicate the person is infected/infectious. But run a high Ct and you'll get more positive results, but may indicate a low, or very low viral load, which may just mean someone's been exposed to the virus, but not infected/infectious. 'factcheck' rather glosses over that point, and is arguably misinformation.

        It also doesn't mention other legitimate concerns, or dismisses them out of hand. So one issue is that apparently test results aren't returned with the Ct value used, so don't really give any indication of potential viral load. But we know that Covid is both highly contagious, and relatively low risk in most of the population. So someone may have had a bit of a cold, recovered, later been tested and then forced to quarantine simply because they've got remnants of Covid RNA, but aren't a 'case' by conventional definition.

        But such is politics. Factcheck somehow gets promoted in search results, even though they're providing misinformation and conspiracy theories. But to understand the debate, you'd have to do some homework to understand how PCR testing works, and the implications of using a high Ct when that's a well-known risk to generating false positives.

        Which really leaves the question of how to get people to understand that 'fact checking' sites may be mistaken.. Which is a bit like wiki. They're not reliable sources, although can be a handy place to get some background information-

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polymerase_chain_reaction#Limitations

        1. yetanotheraoc

          Re: Strawman

          So fact checking is bad. Gotcha.

      3. RM Myers Silver badge
        FAIL

        "...none of them are known for conspiracy theories or antivax bullshit."

        Unfortunately, you are very wrong. Wakefield's original paper on vaccines and autism was published in the Lancet. and not retracted until lyears after a conflict of interest was found and the other co-authors had disavowed the results

    2. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: Strawman

      Nothing "fluff" about it. The search engines are losing the battle on noise. Because they refuse to hire enough people to actually monitor the traffic and content and instead think algorithms and result limits can recreate discretion and reason.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Strawman

        >Because they refuse to hire enough people to actually monitor the traffic

        We should employ Google operators just like in the days of 'directory enquiries'

        Of course with 40,000 queries/second you might have a bit of a wait - but it would solve unemployment

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Strawman

          "[...] just like in the days of 'directory enquiries'"

          ...and no doubt they would charge you a 118 eye-watering fee for the look-up - plus a hefty per-minute charge while you read the pages.

  8. Francis Boyle Silver badge

    Sounds like a search bubble effect

    If you regularly search for rubbish Google will give you rubbish.

    1. slimshady76

      Re: Sounds like a search bubble effect

      I used to consider myself a pretty good Google searcher. This changes a few years ago, when the chocolate factory switched from ranking results with a few key words (i. e. "lava tunnel formation" versus "how is a lava tunnel built?") and then again last year, when the double quotes started to be useful to rank some word/expression higher than the rest.

      What I'm seeing as results from every search is a switch from literal interpretation of the input to a more emotional one. As in when searching for a given topic you get news about what happened to somebody/how the topic affected someone, instead of the facts about that topic.

      I call that the "social pollution" of the search results.

      1. jmch Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: Sounds like a search bubble effect

        There's "social pollution", and then there's the "shopping pollution" of search results, where instead of returning informationabout something, a search on that thing returns a dozen different shopping links for that thing.

  9. Danny 2 Silver badge

    Brilliant article

    In the early '90s my peers considered me smart because I read books and remembered things. Search engines ruined that, equalised it and externalised memory. I couldn't tell you my phone number now.

    I first emailed Danah Boyd in '96 or '97. I was an uber-geek at the time, impressed by her Difranco song lyric site and bored shitless by my Cisco NMS SI&T day jobbie. She sent me a nice reply. I next emailed her a year ago when I learned she'd become a techie guru. She didn't reply but she's put so much online that it's kept me busy catching up. Wonderful woman, total star-bar.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Google is not a search engine

    It's an advertising supply house these days.

    1. Da Weezil

      Re: Google is not a search engine

      Google probably does track and trace better than Dildo Harding’s bunch of wasters, maybe Boris missed a trick here...

  11. R.O.
    Meh

    Australia should pull the Plug on Google...

    El Reg got it wrong...Australia should pull the plug.

    Google is too big, too powerful, too eccentric, too evil to be allowed to run roughshod over any country. Google and others have set themselves up as autocratic governing entities over the entire world. They compete with representative governments for power and money.

    Frankly, they are not smart enough, competent enough, moral enough to do that.

    Google does not deserve the power to dictate to the entire world. Or my laptop. Or yours.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Australia should pull the Plug on Google...

      >Google does not deserve the power to dictate to the entire world.

      That's Murdoch's job

  12. naive Silver badge

    Isn't that a bit obvious ?

    One could go to a library in the 70's attempting to find a cure for bronchitis, it is very probable one could find books describing leeches, sacrificing goats or antibiotics as a cure.

    Nothing changed, finding information is like buying an used car, keep ones eyes open.

  13. sreynolds

    The problem is still in the same place....

    The problem still is between the chair and keyboard.

  14. jemmyww

    I'm not sure I believe (as in, I don't at all believe) the story the author has given as a preamble here. I searched the same text, as I'm sure many readers did, and I got 2 results from the local ministry of health, which obviously a Florida resident wouldn't see, and then health.harvard.edu, cochrane.org, fda.gov.

    Maybe the author's "friend" is reading the sponsored links only?

  15. sreynolds

    When Scomo met the Turd

    "No one wants Google to pull the plug on Search in Australia, or elsewhere."

    Bill Gates III would welcome that.

  16. Julian Bradfield

    When I type that query into google, I get a lot of governmental and medical pages.

  17. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    1. Danny 2 Silver badge

      http://www.danah.org/Ani/RedLetterYear/TheAtom.html

      let the religious get religion

      let consumers get a clue

      let scientists get perspective

      let activists get their due

      let industry get a conscience

      let the earth inherit the meek

      let the divinity of nature speak

      1. yetanotheraoc

        "let the earth inherit the meek" = very cynical

  18. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Wrong title

    “Global misinformation”

    Lets see shall we... how much of it is spewed by the mainstream media, on the TV, radio, newspapers AND the internet

    45 minute dossier

    Jihad John LoL

    Nayirah testimony

    911

    77

    There are more but I cant be fucked to educate muppets

    When a director of communications as a government advisor nickname is the spindoctor, you need to wake the fuck up and start paying attention

  19. macjules Silver badge
    Devil

    How do we combat mass global misinformation?

    "Mr Mark Zuckerberg?"

    "Yes"

    Bang

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So which search engine did you use? an imaginary one?

    >I had no idea what he meant by this, so I typed the following into a search box: “WHO PCR COVID test accuracy”...

    >...and got back a tsunami of conspiracy and antivax propaganda.

    Funny, when I type that search term into the search box from an obscure search engine from a company in Mountain View I get back a whole bunch of hits from such notorious conspiracy theory sources as the bmj and theLancet. Google have put a lot of effort into "shaping" those results to weigh them towards "official" sources.

    So I call total B.S on what you wrote.

    If you are searching the published scientific literature the "unshaped " search results search engines get you to the relevant scientific journals a lot faster. Not government public health "information" cluttering up the results.

    When used as a mass screening test the false positive rate for RT/PCR test is very high. 90% plus in high volume mass testing labs. When RT/PCR is used as a clinical confirmation test in conjunction with standard clinical differential diagnostic protocols (XRay etc) the false positive rate is low ( < 5%). This is because of some very basic mathematics. Low probable prevalence / high error rate. High probable prevalent / low error rate.

    The very low error rates for specificity and sensitivity quoted by some sources are purely under very rigorous calibration scenarios and have little relevance in real world mass screening testing. Where it is just the mathematics of low prevalence but much higher cumulative process errors rates. By about an order of magnitude.

    Until March 2020 the RT/PCR test was never used as a mass screening test for very good scientific reasons. It was only used as a clinical confirmation test. So all mass screening RT/PCR tests since March 2020 generate little more than random noise. Due to the molecular tests very high false negative rate when testing for active infections. For very good scientific reasons.

    Maybe you should search for Type I and Type II Errors and their impact on the reliability and validity of clinical testing procedures. There is a large body of published papers on this particular subject over the last few decades. Very easy to find if you know how to use search engines.

    Or do you consider sources like the NCBI scientific publications portal as some kind of spreaders of conspiracy theories?

    Like some "anti-vax propaganda"? The adverse reaction death rate from the COVID vaccines is current running at around 60X that for the annual flu shot. Well over 100X for people over 65. Who says so? Why the CDC and their VAERS database.

    If you want a reasonable assessment of the risk/reward equation for this experimental vaccine how about some real numbers for risk. All I see at the moment in the published literature is moderate risk for low / no reward. My PSI/PORT risk from SARs CoV 2 is still lower than from H1N1/H3N2 for example. So flu shot - good idea, SARs CoV 2 experimental vaccine - no sale. Come back when it has proper timeline 505(b)(1) approval and then maybe we can talk. In about 5 years time.

    Some people have been very wary of the official line precisely because when we research the relevant published literature we find little or no scientific support for the government line. In fact quite the opposite. A very different situation from the last pandemic. Swine Flu (H1N1) in 2009. When there was no government mass hysteria. Just the usual balls up. People got sick (like me) some died (at the same rate as the last year) and everyone just got on with their lives.

    I am afraid it is you who seems to be spreading ill-informed shite in this particular situation.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: So which search engine did you use? an imaginary one?

      I've just done the same and got respectable results as you did. I do think perhaps this article is somewhat fear mongering and as innacurarate as it believed Google to be.

    2. david 12

      Re: So which search engine did you use? an imaginary one?

      News flash:

      GOOGLE RESULTS ARE PERSONALIZED.

      The results you get back depend on your history, location, and the google secret sauce.

      9:40AM AEDT

  21. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

    You could try the deadly simple route, and ensure novel information can be always quickly and accurately traced back to originating source ..... with none of that pathetic anonymous government source type nonsense tolerated, inviting as it does, all manner of misinformation to be spread with no directly responsible target given to receive just desserts in response.

    IT aint rocket science, plain common sense, but it does appear to be in extremely short supply, and in actual application, even more so.

    Maybe that is the natural default, dire straits state of humans?

    1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

      Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

      “Stupid humans”

      Remember, stupid is the default setting

    2. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

      Bloody hell aManfrommars. You've actually said something comprehensible sensible and thoughtful. I've been one of your harshest critics, I take my make believe hat off to you on this occasion. Unless that is of course your human operator has taken over the account now?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

        So if you feed a Markov chain on conspiracy gibberish - it twists it into the truth ?

        1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

          Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

          So if you feed a Markov chain on conspiracy gibberish - it twists it into the truth ? .... Yet Another Anonymous coward

          Now that would be ace GBIrish, Yet Another Anonymous coward, and pretty perfect for a whole plethora of special programming operations which are remarkably stealthy by virtue of the fact that their projects are so wonderfully difficult for humans to believe in and accept as universally true, even whenever they be clearly enough advised of the mantra/methodology by a motley selection of A.N.Others.

          And how to deal with such future things as be revealed, and may more than just touch upon the outlandishly bizarre and be fed to media as a glitch rather than realised as an outer space service and virulent facility......... A Glitch in the Matrix ....... are sure to confound and defeat you, unless and until user base intelligence improves and advances dramatically, with it being well reported as an increasing number of others having taken quite a number of well choreographed quantum leaps to fully accept and be able to prove alternate realities easily made available for all to enjoy and employ.

          'Tis a big ask indeed, but well worth the effort and journeys, given the trappings and spoils which would indicate with excessive reward, unparalleled success.

          1. Tail Up

            Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

            https://youtu.be/b6Gav1V7BhQ

            More Than Ever - Rebelution /

            Live @ Red Rocks

          2. Martin Summers Silver badge

            Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

            Then you went and ruined it with your second comment amfm.

            1. yetanotheraoc

              Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

              You thought you were complimenting him, whereas he took it as criticism.

        2. 2+2=5 Silver badge

          Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

          > So if you feed a Markov chain on conspiracy gibberish - it twists it into the truth ?

          Time to wheel out the Babbage quote:

          On two occasions I have been asked, "Pray, Mr. Babbage, if you put into the machine wrong figures, will the right answers come out?" ... I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a question.

      2. jdiebdhidbsusbvwbsidnsoskebid Bronze badge

        Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

        Sometimes even the blind chicken finds the corn.

    3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: How do we combat mass global misinformation?

      Zuckerberg says he is whacking the mole...

      Update on February 8, 2021 at 10:00AM PT:

      Removing More False Claims About COVID-19 and Vaccines

      https://about.fb.com/news/2020/04/covid-19-misinfo-update/#removing-more-false-claims

      1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Zuckerberg Removing More False Claims About COVID-19 and Vaccines

        Today, following consultations with leading health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), we are expanding the list of false claims we will remove to include additional debunked claims about the coronavirus and vaccines. This includes claims such as:

        COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured ...... https://about.fb.com/news/2020/04/covid-19-misinfo-update/#removing-more-false-claims

        Refusing to allow claims it is man-made or manufactured leaves on the table the question ....Is it naturally occurring in another wild animal species or is of an alien descent and disposition which has made a jump/quantum leap into the human system, both of which surely are much more problematical to deal with whenever unable to be debunked with evidence presented beyond a shadow of doubt to the contrary, and therefore demonstrably true?

        Is that what WHO inspectors are searching for in Wuhan today ? Something alien and/or naturally occurring in wild animals nowadays?....... https://www.euronews.com/2021/01/14/china-who-inspectors-arrive-in-wuhan-to-probe-covid-19-origins

        Now that is real spooky and even more terrifying than all of that other stuff Facebook would now be trying to debunk/remove from view/deny possibility of.

        Would Zuckerberg then be tasked with preventing any truth in those findings being hosted and spread around the world to inform and educate/edutain humanity with Facebook ..... a convenient patsy and monumental scapegoat that serial idiots could try to blame for their failings in micromanaging the universal environment with their remote invisible levers in media for command and control of madness and mayhem in chaotic conflict with CHAOS .... Clouds Hosting Advanced Operating Systems ?

        Methinks that is much more a failing to be recognised and accepted by the old guard establishment rather than abandoned to be blamed on any relatively new school intake ..... with the consistent and persistent failings of a Rupert Murdoch/Warren Buffett/George Soros type rather than any mistakes made by a Mark Zuckerberg/Elon Musk/Steve Jobs (RIP) visionary type/improved development model clone being wholly responsible and accountable.

        YMMV ..... but it is surely impossible to deny is a valid possibility, and therefore in all likelihood, an eminent probability and certain actuality ?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Zuckerberg... ...Vaccines

          Truly me does not See The Reason why some of the readers/traders/future event insiders say they fail to understand amfM's messages like this one above?

  22. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    Bill Hicks

    Had a good idea of what global misinformation looked like, and he was born pre-internet

    https://youtu.be/9YlyY1pcvQQ

  23. JonSaul

    Problem is PEBKAC

    I understand where this is coming from, but humans are limited in their capacity to create boolean searches that work. I perform them at work and at play, and I still don’t know 100% what result will be returned, because the search developers don’t share what their search methods are.

    If they did, they wouldn’t have commercial value, and thus couldn’t be monetized.

    Since the monetization genie is out of the bottle, I don’t see how picking a search tool that meets the article author’s biases will help someone who does *not*.

  24. nxnwest

    Critical Thinking No Longer Taught

    Critical Thinking only counts when everyone is taught to do so. We have Charter Schools and Home Schooling to ensure Critical Thinking is never taught. Critical thinking relies on the parents starting the process. When parents do not want to do so, it is not going to happen.

  25. SGJ

    I'm not sure that the ease of searching is the problem. I've just typed "accuracy of pcr tests" into DuckDuckGo (my first choice of search engine) and, in the first three results (ignoring adverts) I got https://www.cochrane.org/news/how-accurate-are-routine-laboratory-tests-diagnosis-covid-19 which is a source of high quality data.

    The problem is, I think, that people aren't taught how to evaluate information presented to them i.e. what makes Cochrane a better source than most others for information on PCR tests. Epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge, should be a compulsory part of every child's education.

    1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

      "people aren't taught how to evaluate information presented to them"

      Did they never go to school? That's a standard part of being able to do any form of school learning.

      At least it was when I was at school in the '70s and '80s. How do you manage to get through the school curriculum if you aren't able to evaluation information presented to you? How can you learn *anything* if you aren't able to evaluate information?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Newspeak at its best (worst)

    "Combat mass global misinformation" - newspeak at its best. What must be really fought is the global concentration of corporate media ownership. Then there will be room for different voices to be heard. What I understood from this propaganda piece is that creation of a global Ministry of Truth is already a must, just look at the communist Canada.

  27. Ozan

    I tried duckduckgo with same search got 2 to 23 percent false negative in the first link. Maybe, yu know, maybe google is a terrible search engine.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A PCR test for SARS is NOT a "COVID" test

    COVID is a disease. The PCR test detects the presence of the virus that can cause the disease. The sensitivity of a PCR test can be adjusted so that it detects "loads" that might not be able to lead to disease nor spread. So the author, ironically, uses an example that shows he can't be trusted to even report facts. "Misinformation" is a word that only needs to be applied to facts. The interpretation of facts to establish "truth" is only a threat to authoritarians. Journalists are now upset that reporting opinions as facts has created a "trust void" ? That's hilarious.

  29. NotMyRealName

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

    If you habitually access the Internet with cookies enabled, and use Google to search, the search results will be "helpfully" tailored to your past online activity (on which Google will have copious data). So, should you ever idly delve into a rabbit hole, Google's algorithms will deem it to be one of your interests. Is it any wonder that misinformation gets reinforced and proliferates?

    There are times when cookies are essential: accessing bank accounts, buying online, and (as now) commenting on Web sites. The data-culling can be limited by NEVER accepting third-party cookies -- but how many users are aware of that option? And, even if they'd read about it, decided that changing settings was too much hassle. Also, very few users are aware of anonymised search options such as Startpage and Duckduckgo; the general view is that to search means to Google.

    I don't see an easy way out of this Google strangle-hold. Culling personal data is their money-making objective. Disseminating reliable information and proven facts in response to a search query doesn't figure in their equation.

  30. Screwed

    Can we have a search engine function for the first ever occurrence of whatever term we are looking for?

    With suitable logic that ensures it finds the first time it was used, not the oldest page. When a paper document is digitised, the date needs to reflect when it was written, not first put on the internet.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      And then someone just lies about the first use and we go back to square one. The problem is social, not technological, and there's no easy solution for social problems because they go to the human condition.

  31. DS999 Silver badge

    This where the "do your research" crowd understands nothing

    They think Google is "research". If you plug QAnon conspiracy theories into Google of course it will spit out links confirming those nutjob ideas!

    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: This where the "do your research" crowd understands nothing

      If you plug QAnon conspiracy theories into Google of course it will spit out links confirming those nutjob ideas!

      Yep. I just tried it. So searching for "rich and powerful paedophiles" gave me hits for someone called "Epstein". Then possibly more conspiracy theories about whether said rich & powerful put a hit on Epstein.

      Which I guess confirms the old adage that the most plausible conspiracy theories contain an element of truth..

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This where the "do your research" crowd understands nothing

        Try "paediatricians" instead.

  32. needmorehare
    Pirate

    Forget about research materials

    I can't even find decent free porn any more using Google.The best websites to get it from have been penalised by their algorithms in favour of social media crap advertising OnlyFans. Even fan fiction resources on PHPBB-based forums have vanished from results. I really wish I'd downloaded everything I could get my sticky hands on (or off) in the mid-2000s, when things were much better online!

  33. Gerlad Dreisewerd

    Problems already

    The search engines are already having issues. Many relevant bits of information are simply disappearing from the Internet. One of my favorites was a series of articles by a business consultant. His series was titled Big Organizations That Act Like Idiots (BOTALI). It's unclear if these have disappeared due to lack of interest or that they don't fit someone's narrative. I can name several other such articles and websites that have simply disappeared. Let me make this clear; knowledge may become outdated but it should never disappear.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Problems already

      I used to use Google to do a quick retrieve of factual comments I had posted to various online publications. That ability disappeared many years ago - even though I know the sources are still there if I go to them directly.

  34. needmorehare
    Pint

    Does nobody remember Mahalo?

    It was an attempt to revive directory-based searches like old times. A "human powered search engine" which operated a bit like Wikipedia but without the [citation needed] and editing wars.

    Beer = a toast to what could have been!

  35. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Judgement

    Being awash in false narratives and other lies is nothing new. In the old days, they spread slower but they were harder to debunk as it was often very hard to get access to the correct information. Newspapers having been spreading lies (see yellow journalism) for decades interspersed with an occasionally accurate article. Today the problem is the speed the lies come at you. If you have good search skills (most do not), it is often easy to the lies if you have the time. Otherwise the key skill is critical thinking which is often not taught in school and I am uncertain if it was ever really taught.

  36. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

    On person’s disinformation is another person’s truth.

    Nobody spent as much effort on “fighting disinformation” as totalitarian states.

  37. seenab
    Happy

    info on covid-19 tests

    Using Google is asking for trouble. Use DuckDuckGo instead. When I searched the text this way I received relevant links with reliable info on the various tests and their pros and cons. Stop Googling and Duckgoa instead.

    1. Big_Boomer Silver badge

      Re: info on covid-19 tests

      Better yet, use a variety of search engines. I use several and am suspicious of most of them. However, remember that search engines almost always return results ranked according to how many people clicked on them. Search populism is just part of the problem with search engine algorithms as some of them use your search/site history to skew your results, whilst others just skew them according to what makes them the most money. Spread the love w.r.t. sources (and search engines), double check stuff that matters to you, and grow some scepticism,.... because whether you believe that people are mostly good or not, the ones that are not good are going to try to take advantage of you.

  38. professore

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    The problem with a "curated" search engine is who will monitor the curators?

    For example, Facebook removed the official page of the Great Barrington Declaration, who, regardless of what you might think of them or their theories, are led by a group of very distinguished scientists. Another example is it is now forbidden to suggest that COVID 19 might have been lab engineered and accidentally escaped. That is a perfectly valid hypothesis with a lot of circumstantial evidence. It may turn out that it isn't the case, but it certainly isn't outside the realm of possibility at all.

  39. Tail Up
    Joke

    The following short video is a specimen of what is used by The RL People to distract the Earthlings' attention from discussing the urgent problems of contemporary world: https://youtu.be/eOU7a1iQC2Y

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The application of standard libel laws to pre-internet publishers has served civilization well for hundreds of years.

    It's time to kill the abomination that is 230 and hold all publishing platforms (from print to electronic) to the same standard.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The application of standard libel laws to pre-internet publishers has served civilization well for hundreds of years.

      Unfortunately such laws seem to be used mainly by the rich and powerful to kill a truth about themselves and their activities.

  41. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "Data voids are spaces that have instead been crowded out by insanity, propaganda..."

    I suspect 'data voids' are merely the pinnacle of an iceberg. If one assesses the volume of sheer nonsense founded in complete ignorance that gets posted on the web without any ulterior agenda (gazillions of 'me too' sites on technical matters stuffed with misinformation), these data voids are about as prevalent as the incidence of nutters in the population as a whole.

    However I suspect that Gooooooooogle's "algorithms" probably select preferentially for sensational content where it exists, as that results in increased click rates on which their revenue depends. They do return some pretty weird results to quite specific searches. Indeed, sometimes the more specific the search the greater the number of irrelevant results.

    Unfortunately there is, and never has been, anything to be done about nutters, unless we desire a "police state" to clamp down completely on freedom of speech. Instead, we have to learn to exercise our own judgement and be selective when gathering information. We've always had to do this - it's not just a requirement on the web.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: "Data voids are spaces that have instead been crowded out by insanity, propaganda..."

      "Unfortunately there is, and never has been, anything to be done about nutters, unless we desire a "police state" to clamp down completely on freedom of speech. Instead, we have to learn to exercise our own judgement and be selective when gathering information. We've always had to do this - it's not just a requirement on the web."

      But no man is an island, and things one person does can domino and cause collateral damage, which raises an important question. How do we keep Stupid from taking the rest of us with them?

  42. DutchBasterd

    Just came here to say that this does not only count for the internet, but for using computers in general.

  43. james7byrne

    Things are as you see them. You don't need to look it up.

    In the year of our Lord 1432, there arose a grievous quarrel among the brethren over the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse. For thirteen days the disputation raged without ceasing. All the ancient books and chronicles were fetched out, and wonderful and ponderous erudition such as was never before heard of in this region was made manifest. At the beginning of the fourteenth day, a youthful friar of goodly bearing asked his learned superiors for permission to add a word, and straightway, to the wonderment of the disputants, whose deep wisdom he sore vexed, he beseeched them to unbend in a manner coarse and unheard-of and to look in the open mouth of a horse and find answer to their questionings. At this, their dignity being grievously hurt, they waxed exceeding wroth; and, joining in a mighty uproar, they flew upon him and smote him, hip and thigh, and cast him out forthwith. For, said they, surely Satan hath tempted this bold neophyte to declare unholy and unheard-of ways of finding truth, contrary to all the teachings of the fathers. After many days more of grievous strife, the dove of peace sat on the assembly, and they as one man declaring the problem to be an everlasting mystery because of a grievous dearth of historical and theological evidence thereof, so ordered the same writ down.

    —Francis Bacon, 1592

  44. Roger Mew

    Mmm very clever, at 75 years of age the internet is getting very complicated anyway for example many people in France have not applied forthe covid inoculation because they cannot apply manyasthey have no computer and more as it is too complicated to find the correct page. How about just cutting all telephone lines and scrapping all electronics. End all misinformation, easy.

    Idiots!

  45. Gerlad Dreisewerd

    It used to be called propaganda

    As a teenager I built a Knight Kit shortwave receiver and discovered news reports from around the world. The one thing that impressed me was that the same news story would be reported from around the world in very different fashions. One soon learned to sort out propaganda from the actual story by locating where the event was happening and listening to their reporting. The modern Internet is no different. There is a cacophony of voices on anything and everything. One has to learn to apply the propaganda filter to whatever is found on the the Internet.

    The PCR test has been problematic from the first. The test works by growing any organisms found on the sample swab. When set to a high number of replication cycles the test found high numbers of COVID-19 cases in asymptomatic people. Kary Mullis, the inventor of the PCR process, said the test was unsuitable for detecting COVID-19. Remember when Tanzania tried their COVID test kits on a goat and piece of fruit and the tests came back positive? Remember the stories where medical personnel submitted unused test swabs that then tested positive? Yet this didn't prevent the medical bureaucracies from seizing on the PCR test and identifying asymptomatic carriers far and wide. Here in the states, they are quietly turning down the number of replication cycles when testing vaccinated people then proclaiming the vaccines are working. I grew up on a farm and know that smell.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: It used to be called propaganda

      "Remember when Tanzania tried their COVID test kits on a goat and piece of fruit and the tests came back positive? Remember the stories where medical personnel submitted unused test swabs that then tested positive?"

      No, and no.

      And you have to wonder if stories like these are perhaps reverse propaganda: scare tactics meant to stir panic and distrust. I mean, how long has it been since we entered a DTA world?

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