The Internet Has Made Dupes—and Cynics—of Us All

“The typical response to the onslaught of falsehood is to say, lol, nothing matters. But when so many of us are reaching this point, it really does matter.”


The Internet Has Made Dupes—and Cynics—of Us All
Wired, June 24, 2019
By Zeynep Tufekci

Online fakery runs wide and deep, but you don’t need me to tell you that. New species of digital fraud and deception come to light almost every week, if not every day: Russian bots that pretend to be American humans. American bots that pretend to be human trolls. Even humans that pretend to be bots. Yep, some “intelligent assistants,” promoted as advanced conversational AIs, have turned out to be little more than digital puppets operated by poorly paid people.


The internet was supposed to not only democratize information but also rationalize it—to create markets where impartial metrics would automatically surface the truest ideas and best products, at a vast and incorruptible scale. But deception and corruption, as we’ve all seen by now, scale pretty fantastically too.


According to ReviewMeta, an independent site that tracks the veracity of online feedback, there’s recently been a tremendous increase in Amazon reviews reviews written by users who have not made a verified purchase of the item they’re reviewing.


Surprise, surprise: Almost all of these unverified purchasers (98.2 percent) give the product five stars. Claims of fakery might also be fake. On Amazon, you can hardly shop for a simple sunscreen without encountering reviews claiming the product is counterfeit. Relieved to have been warned, you might be tempted to click away. But maybe that review itself was fake, planted by a competitor.

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About the Author:

Zeynep Tufekci is a WIRED contributor and a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.