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Category Archives: Internet

“Denial”: how to deal with a conspiracy theory in the era of ‘post-truth’

I only have a very small part in the film Denial compared to those of David Irving (played by Timothy Spall), Richard Rampton QC (played by Tom Wilkinson), Anthony Julius (played by Andrew Scott), and Professor Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz), but I like to think it’s an important one. When Irving sued Deborah […]

15 February 2017
Technological Conspiracies

On Tuesday Lawrence Quill gave a public lecture on Technological Conspiracies. It was creative, thought-provoking, and opened with a charming advert for a family robot. We’ll post a video of the lecture here soon, but in the meantime here’s a text of the comments I gave after the talk, where I raised some questions about technology, […]

11 June 2015
An algorithmic approach to trustworthiness

Apropos last week’s symposium on virality, and in particular the relative speeds of online dissemination of truths and untruths, this paper from Google researchers is interesting.  At the moment, Google ranks search results using a proprietary algorithm (or, more likely, set of algorithms) which perform some kind of ‘peer review’ of web pages.  The essence […]

7 March 2015
Surveillance and fact-checking
Surveillance and fact-checking

Two richly interesting pieces in the most recent New Yorker, both of them touching on conspiracy and democracy themes. ‘The Whole Haystack’ by Mattathias Schwartz tells the story of Basaaly Moalin, the only person successfully prosecuted for terrorism offences in the US using evidence collected by the meta-data trawls of phone and email records now […]

24 January 2015
Does Amazon really know what it’s selling?
Does Amazon really know what it’s selling?

Many moons ago I wrote an Observer column about how Amazon’s self-publishing system was turning into a a machine for generating lucrative spam. Now, an investigation by The Kernel reports that it may also be an engine for circulating Holocaust denial literature, as well as other dubious stuff. The article goes on to claim that […]

15 October 2013
How rumours spread on electronic networks

A major focus of work on the Internet strand is the question of how ideas, memes, rumours, ‘facts’, etc. disseminate through online networks.  Is the online world significantly different from its offline counterpart, and, if so, in what ways?  These questions have been of enduring interest to sociologists at least since 1973 when the Stanford […]

30 April 2013