Recently, it came out in the news that some fake social media accounts, originating from China, have been giving a Canadian rare earth mineral supplier a really hard time. Most of the time, the best way to deal with fake accounts and bots is to ignore them, but that isn’t a great option this time. In this short article series, I’m going to try to give an in-depth explanation about how these attacks work, why they matter, and what we can do to protect clean technology from being used against us.
How The Internet Fails Us
There’s an old saying: “If it’s on the internet, it must be true.”
While you can find a lot of good information on the internet, there’s also a lot of garbage. Where are you going to find much of the mental cyber junk food? Social media. Everyone’s an expert, and the real experts don’t know what they’re talking about. Wind turbines are not only never going to make more energy than it takes to build them, but they cause cancer to boot. EVs? They’re all over $100k, they can only go 20 miles on a charge, and they run on powdered coal that you pour in their electric gas tank. Oh, and if you need to defend yourself, use wasp spray (in case you didn’t know, wasp spray doesn’t work on anything but wasps).
But, let’s assume that you’re a sophisticated reader (hey, this is CleanTechnica, so it could happen), and you’re too smart to fall for internet bullcrap and old wives’ tales. But, you do know that you can get an idea of what the general mood in a society is based on watching stuff people say, right? Even if they’re stupid, you’d think lurking on social media and seeing what dumb things are said gives you the ability to “read the room”, right?
Sadly, there’s a meme (well, actually a comic) for that, too: “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
Fake People With Bad Intentions
While my cats do occasionally use the internet (mostly to introduce typos into my articles which I must correct, or to watch videos of birds and fish I put on to watch them lunge at my phone), I’ve never seen a dog actually use the internet the way you or I would. But, that’s not the point. The point is that you never really know who or what is on the other end of the conversation.
We’d all like to think we’re attractive and cool people. Some of us attractive and cool people also happen, through no fault of our own, to be kind of lonely and in need of companionship. So when a lonely 40-something lady gets a message from a very attractive and handsome 25-year-old Major General who does bodybuilding in his spare time, or an aging man gets a message from a 30-year-old woman whose husband just died and left her a million dollars, we’d like to think we’re good enough to get attention from such impossibly lucky and attractive potential mates. And, when they need our help to get plane tickets to come meet us, some of us will gladly fork over the dough for true love.
But, the people on the other end are probably young Nigerian men working for a scammer mill, and they’re certainly not going to use that money to buy a plane ticket to come meet you. Or, if you’re gay and looking for love, sometimes it’s a violent bigot trying to lure you for a beating or murder. Or a robber. Or a rapist. Or any other number of fake people with bad intentions.
And it works, over and over and over again, because there’s something about the internet that lets us see what we want to see instead of questioning everything and seeking out better information like we should.
Oddly Enough, Internet Deception Is Now A Weapon Of War
“Nobody needs an AR-15!” people on the internet are saying right now. “They’re weapons of war! Get them off our streets!!!” After all, we only had muskets that could shoot at most 3 shots per minute in 1791, right? They didn’t envision some gun that could fire off 30+ rounds in mere seconds, the argument goes.
But, chances are you’re holding another weapon of war in your hands, or it’s sitting in front of you on a desk: your phone, tablet, phablet, laptop, or desktop.
We only had slow and expensive printing presses and quill pens back in the day, and what you’ve got there in front of you can literally reach millions of people if you use it right. It’s a high-capacity word-throwing machine, capable of throwing out anywhere from 15 to 200 words every sixty seconds if you know how to type. You can also make emotionally-manipulative videos, podcasts, and all sorts of mental candy for people to eat with a little bit of training.
I’m not here to make an argument about the Second Amendment, though. The important point I want to make is older than the internet: the pen can be mightier than the sword, and our internet-connected devices are all high-capacity assault pens with magic ink.
You’ve got the “AR-15” of communication in your pocket. In the right hands, people can wreak some serious havoc, and they do it every single day. But, what would happen if someone put together a whole army of people doing bad things on their computers and phones?
“The Art Of War Is The Art Of Deception”
There are tons of stupid “Confucius says…” jokes out there, but the above is a real quote by an ancient Chinese man, commonly known today in English as Sun Tzu. While most readers will pronounce his name wrong, the important thing to remember is that Sun Tzu wrote an important book called The Art Of War.
Some people will tell you that reading a bad translation of the book from decades ago will give you secret insight into the inner workings of “Red China” or “those Communist heathens,” but that’s a bunch of crap. A book from the Warring States Period would be an impossibly stupid place to hide state secrets from a government that established itself in 1949, and on top of that everyone has a copy now, or can read it online for free. But, the book does give smart people ideas they can use not only in warfare, but in other competitive areas of life, like business. It can give you some insight into Chinese culture, too, because it’s a very influential book like the Five Classics and the Four Books, or the Dao De Jing (a foundational text in Taoism).
Continue reading in Part 2…
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