Published On: Mon, Apr 29th, 2019

Fake News, like a virus, only worse

Since 1971, when the very first virus, The Creeper, hit the scene, our computers have been under constant threat. In the beginning it was just a game. We received messages, poems, innocent content. Afterwards, everything became more serious. New viruses replicated or deleted files or even formatted our machines.

The danger seriously increased in 1999 when these malicious codes gained a commercial identity which they carry until now: Melissa. Then in 2005, MyTob was introduced, the first virus with the capacity to execute software without the user needing to carry out any specific action.

This plunged us into a world of total despair. Can you believe that today there are more than 300 million different viruses? It’s true that we also now have antivirus software, with the promise of saving us from these plagues that continue to afflict us.

I see a certain similarity between this process and the new stars of cibernetic anguish, fake news. The first bit of fake news to ever be recorded in the analog world dates back to 1835.

“Gigantic bats passed their days collecting fruits and conversing animatedly; creatures similar to goats with blue skin in a temple made of polished sapphire,” remarked the eminent British astronomer John Herschel, when he pointed a powerful telescope in an observatory in South Africa at the moon. At least, this was what a series of articles reporting in the New York Sun “informed” its readers.

I realize that computer viruses and fake news originated as unpretentious games, but they soon gained unforseen dimensions and became the cause of enormous damages to society.

However, I feel that false news is the most offensive medium, because they can misinform, defame, disorient, and kill all of our ability to trust, to believe. And these consequences are disastrous.

Our evolution was based on our way of transferring information that we believed to be correct. Now we receive and share information that later we discover is false. What happened in the last elections, in the United States and in Brazil, was a true mockery.

Even some well-known media outlets shared fake news with their readers. Others created areas to check facts in an attempt to dismantle the flow of fake news that, among other kinds of damage, lead large masses of people to adopt behaviors desired by small yet powerful groups with specific interests.

But it is necessary to do more than this to confront this new plague. Just like how the antivirus softwares were developed to identify virus signatures, we should think up software that could identify fake news signatures. Each virus has its own DNA, which can be analyzed and gives rise to a “vaccine”, a methodology applicable to false information.

They aren’t always 100% effective, the same way as the antiviruses aren’t, yet they can identify at least 95% of false texts, photos, and videos today spread across social media, rapidly alerting users.

About the Author

- Wanderson Castilho is the president of Enetsec and a private detective in Florida . He holds a bachelors in Physics from Federal University of Paraná (UFPR), Curitiba - Brazil. Author of the books "Manual of A Virtual Detective" (2009), "Deception, a Multifaced Issue" (2011), "Do you know what your kids are doing on the internet?" (2014), and "100 Critical Facts about the World's Cybercrime”(2018). Representative member from South and Central America on the Michigan Collegiate Cyber Defense Network’s Industry and Academic Advisory Board, at the University of Michigan, USA, which promotes network security competitions with the objective of guaranteeing competitiveness among educational institutions that teach professionals in the field of Information Technology.

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