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Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet…
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Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know… (edition 2014)

by Charles Seife

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981205,533 (3.81)6
Seife takes "us deep into the Internet information jungle and [cuts] a path through the trickery, fakery, and cyber skullduggery that the online world enables. Taking on everything from breaking news coverage and online dating to program trading and that eccentric and unreliable source that is Wikipedia, Seife arms his readers with actual tools--or weapons--for discerning truth from fiction online"--… (more)
Member:randolphcclibrary
Title:Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True?
Authors:Charles Seife
Info:Viking Adult (2014), Hardcover, 256 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:internet

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Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You, How Do You Know It’s True? by Charles Seife

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Seife is a journalist so his books are easy reads. He does not say much that is really new to me in this book, but he says it well. Using the Corrupted Blood virus as a metaphor for the spread of (dis)-information in the digital age is clever.

The discussion of Wikipedia, including the many ways in which articles can and have been spun, is good. So is the circular generation of fact: Wikipedia says it, a news source says it, having read it on Wikipedia, and then Wikipedia cites the news source. I use Wikipedia all the time and will continue to use it; it is great when you want to look up say, bananas. But for more newsy or corporate thing, best to look for other sources.

Sockpuppetry and its uses are well-described. It is disturbing to me how effective spurious identities can be; I would not like to be connected with people I didn't actually know online, however attractive their profiles, but many people are less picky. Perhaps the things that interest me are still, so far, un-fakeable.

His discussion of plagiarism amused me. I think that nowadays most students and perhaps many journalists don't even know the meaning of plagiarism any more. The notion of thinking your own thoughts is mostly foreign. Even the notion of taking somebody else's perfectly good thoughts, thinking them through, internalizing them, and then writing them back out in your own words is foreign. Both of these things take work; work is hard; better to let somebody else do all your thinking for you.

His point that it is only information (in the sense of information theory) if it contains something new, is a good one, and he talks about people who seek out communities of yeah-sayers. I feel sad, apparently I have no peer group to hang with.

He talks about how anything can get published, now, even some guy who has managed to "author" 110,000 books, all of which are flogged on Amazon and positively reviewed by bots.

He talks about "news" the sole purpose of which is to guide you to advertisement and about SOE generally. "news" is what people are interested in, not important events that are happening.

He talks about the many uses of sockpuppets with a little AI: to pretend to be supporters of a politician, to be possible dates on match.com, to be authors of scientific papers.

He discusses mindless internet games and the rise of Cow Clicker.

All good, but where to go from there? Well, shutting off your own access to aggregators of stupid stuff is a good start. I've been doing that a bit in the recent past, and this book reinforces my belief that that behavior is a good thing. I'll step it up.

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Update 2019 March

I checked it out again and got to the bit about Bert (the Sesame Street character), and Osama bin Laden. Amazing. ( )
  themulhern | Dec 31, 2014 |
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Charles Seifeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bourlot, SusannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Seife takes "us deep into the Internet information jungle and [cuts] a path through the trickery, fakery, and cyber skullduggery that the online world enables. Taking on everything from breaking news coverage and online dating to program trading and that eccentric and unreliable source that is Wikipedia, Seife arms his readers with actual tools--or weapons--for discerning truth from fiction online"--

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