Recent samples from the Internet where factoids, misinformation and disinformation move at the speed of light among 1.8 billion people — 26 percent of the world population — now online:
- Saudi Arabia has made a secret deal with Israel for overflight rights for fighter bombers on their way to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities — or on their way back — and for air-to-air refueling.
- Israel is massing warplanes in the Caucasus for an attack on Iran.
- Preparations are under way to launch an Israeli military attack from Azerbaijan and Georgia.
- Israel has been training pilots in Turkey to launch the strike on Iran. Israel is also smuggling planes into Georgia using Turkish airspace.
- Azerbaijan-based intelligence units, working undercover as technicians, trainers, and consultants, have helped with the preparations.
- Georgian coast guard and Israeli controllers are cooperating to hide the operations from Russian vessels.
- Israel won't be in a position to launch a strike on Iran without using bases in Georgia and Azerbaijan due to the limited capabilities of its nuclear submarines stationed near the Iranian coast.
- A very large contingent of U.S. ground forces has massed in Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border, confirmed by the independent Azerbaijani news website Trend.
- An Israeli warship has joined "an unusually large fleet of U.S. warships as it passed through the Suez Canal en route to the Persian Gulf.
- Using Fifth Column operations in a variety of major countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, and other European countries, Iran, through the "Global Terror Franchises," has readied covert retaliatory capabilities that will further disrupt global economies when Israel strikes Iran.
- Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman Al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor, have been hiding in Iran for the past five years under the protection of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The mountainous town of Savzevar in Iran's northeastern province of Khorasan, 130 miles west of Mashhad, is where the world's most wanted terrorist has eluded global manhunts by the intelligence services of some 40 nations now involved in Afghanistan.
These are but a tiny fraction of what is moving around the Internet as "fact," according to a wide variety of dubious sources. At a time when few people have time to read a newspaper and when television's "World News Tonight" frequently doesn't show a single item of world news, more and more people get their news fix online.
But in the "ether" there is no way of assessing the reliability of scores of sets of initials, ranging from the time-tested reliability of major news agencies (Reuters, AP, UPI, AFP, DPA) to the dubious that draw hits on Google.
Simply ask Google for "preposterous stories moving on the Internet as news," and you begin to understand how, at one early stage of the Iraq war, 60 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. Also, how countless millions of people around the world believe 9/11 was a conspiracy engineered by the CIA and Mossad to push back the frontiers of an Islam on the march.
The number of people online worldwide recently reached a staggering 1,802,330,457, or 1.8 billion, out of a world population of 6,767,805,208, or 6.8 billion people. Some 4.2 billion people own a cell phone — hence the picture of a spear-carrying Kikuyu tribesman in Kenya with a mobile phone cradled below his cheek.
Already in May 1940, newly minted Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said that disinformation can travel half way round the world before truth can put its shoes on. Now disinformation can reach a quarter of humanity in a millisecond. And what the Soviets used to call dyzinformatsia is shaping the market plays and investment decisions of countless millions.
Many prominent journalists have quit their publications to start their own blogs where they can break, shape, and spin stories sans editors or libel laws in cyberspace. The Huffington Post, one of the early birds in the blogosphere, has kept a commanding media lead.
But to be up to speed on all fronts, one would have to scan about 100 media blogs when most busy people can only keep up with one or two. There are also blogs for every conceivable corporation, club, society, influence group and politician.
Twitter, the micro social networking website, where postings are limited to 140 characters, has surpassed all the giants of the Internet market and grows like an unstoppable epidemic.
Esther Dyson, high priestess of the Internet, says the Net, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace "accentuate the power of the people to reinvent themselves."
Many of those now talking up a double dip recession have assumed from their Internet news reading that Barbara Tuchman's "Guns of August" about World War I may have a reprise this summer that will quickly drive oil up to $300 or $400 a barrel.
The constant Twitter drumbeat of what many assume will be Israel's pre-emptive attack against Iran's nuclear installations this summer keeps driving up the price of gold. One major player in the gold market says privately, "forget about gold bars because when dollars and euros become worthless, they won't buy you a plane ticket. So buy gold coins."
Panic is contagious among those addicted to what blogs and various and sundry websites claim are "warning signs of full spectrum collapse everywhere." And Tom Friedman's bestsellers on the miracles of globalization are beginning to sound like faint echoes from a bygone era.
Should Israel attack Iran, as the Internet's geopolitical necromancers assume will be the case, repeatedly encouraged by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., all bets are indeed off.
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