May4

A Lesson In Misinformation

Posted by Kelly Kirkham

Don’t believe everything you read. Scratch that – don’t believe anything you read…

This week, the internet made a stand against unreliable sources by cracking down on CloneZone, a site which allowed users to edit and recreate existing sites with just a few clicks. Interestingly, CloneZone had a pretty strong domain name strategy (CloneZone.link will now just take you into the ether, but the idea was strong). What CloneZone lacked was an idea to make the web a safer and more reliable place, which ultimately led to its deactivation.

Information found on the web gets more and more unreliable as time goes by and CloneZone did nothing to help that. This site allowed users to recreate or edit any site found on the web: simply by entering the URL, users could recreate a site and share it with the world. Sounds fun right? In many ways, it was! You could make your own headlines and breaking news from major news sources or feature yourself on a celebrity scandal site. The options were endless. But alas… the opportunities to create unreliable content were also endless.

Created by Slava Balasanov and Analisa Teachworth (who also run a creative studio in New York) the site had been used by artists and web researchers to test the waters before making CloneZone available to the public. The site went live on Monday April 27th, 2015 as an art project to help the public understand just how easy it is to replicate sites and publish false information, and subsequently it taken down later in the week.

Recent trends in social media allow users to quickly flip through mountains of content without checking sources or credibility. Most click ‘share’, ‘like’ or ‘Retweet’ based on headlines and images alone, and few users stop to think of the social implications or consequences of sharing or Retweeting false information over and over again. If the public sees the information as true, the actual truth loses importance in the minds of the readers.

CloneZone attempted to curb the effects of misinformation and passed the responsibility to the reader to research the credibility of content, and yet by allowing their users to manipulate any web content they posed a threat to the reliability of online information.

The act of posting false information on the web has been a hot topic as of late, even going as far as the Supreme Court; lawsuits have been filed recently against internet search engines who post false information. The Ninth Circuit court ruled that it was correct to proceed with the case even though there weren’t any actual monetary damages. An appeal was processed and the case now sits before the Supreme Court. This case presents a troublesome dilemma we all face every day while using the web as a tool for our personal and professional endeavors; CloneZone is an example of how a website intended for casual use (like we mentioned before, the idea is pretty fun in its most innocent form) could be exploited by malicious forces on the web, and has paid the price.

In a free and open internet should it be unlawful to publish false information? Is it up to the reader to discern falsehoods? Where does the responsibility lie and how would we enforce truth? There are many questions left unanswered, not to mention a large gray area of personal opinion. Google has recently made changes to their algorithms to reward honest sites within their search engines, but this only holds value to those that are SEO conscious and leave the rest of the world free to copy, paste, troll and Photoshop their way through the web.

Social media, blogs and open forums present a flurry of public and personal opinion which carry our first amendment rights through the fibers of the web, but they can also act as a playground for trolling, fear-mongering and lies. Let CloneZone serve as a reminder of  the repercussions of using the share button without the proper amount of attention paid to credibility.

What do you think about misinformation and the web?

Let’s start the conversation @Midphase  

 

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