Understanding the Landscape of Online Deception

Understanding the Landscape of Online Deception

Hicham Hage, Esma Aïmeur, Amel Guedidi
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2543-2.ch014
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While fake and distorted information has been part of our history, new information and communication technologies tremendously increased its reach and proliferation speed. Indeed, in current days, fake news has become a global issue, prompting reactions from both researchers and legislators in an attempt to solve this problem. However, fake news and misinformation are part of the larger landscape of online deception. Specifically, the purpose of this chapter is to present an overview of online deception to better frame and understand the problem of fake news. In detail, this chapter offers a brief introduction to social networking sites, highlights the major factors that render individuals more susceptible to manipulation and deception, detail common manipulation and deception techniques and how they are actively used in online attacks as well as their common countermeasures. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the double role or artificial intelligence in countering as well as creating fake news.
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Tim Berners-Lee famously said: “I invented the Web. Here are three things we need to change to save it” (Berners-Lee, 2017). Specifically, the three things to be changed are, first, the loss of control over personal data, second, the ease of spreading misinformation on the Web, and third, online political advertising. In tandem, speaking at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Berners-Lee listed some of the current problems of the Web: fake news; privacy issues; collection and abuse of personal data; and the way people are profiled and then manipulated.

Fake or distorted news and information is not exactly anything new. It has been a part of media history long before the creation of the Web and social media. For example, in ancient Rome, Octavian (who became Augustus, the first Roman Emperor) conducted a propaganda campaign to smear the reputation of Antony, using slogans and fake news (Posetti & Matthews, 2018). However, the Web and social media allow for an unprecedentedly rapid dissemination of unsubstantiated and unconfirmed information, rumors, and conspiracy theories, that often produce rapid and widespread, but naive social responses, resulting in fake news stories spreading faster than true stories (Del Vicario et al., 2016). Analyzing a Twitter data set, the authors discovered that fake news was more likely to be retweeted and cascade down to between 1,000 and 100,000 Twitter users (Vosoughi, Roy, & Aral, 2018). To exacerbate the issue even further, the abundance of readily available personal data enables the micro-targeting of fake news to users that are most susceptible and receptive (EDPS, 2018).

Even though incorrect or misleading information may in some cases be unintentionally shared, false information is mainly deliberately and often craftily created and spread in order to affect public opinion or obscure the truth. Ultimately, whether it is for influencing people’s opinions or simply for financial gain (Kirby, 2016), false information is designed and crafted in order to deceive and manipulate users.

However, fake news and misinformation are part of the larger landscape of Online Deception. This chapter provides an overview of the landscape of online deception, since understanding the general context will help provide a better understanding of the problem of fake news and how to address the issue.

In the larger context of online deception, the major factors to be considered are: the deceiver’s purpose or aim; the context of the deception; the online media used; the deception technique; and the target or potential victim. Several aspects of deceivers must be considered: their technical skill, expectations and motivation. These issues have an impact on the difficulty level and possibility of success of the deception. Specifically, the purpose or aim, as well as the motivation of the deception can all impact the success and complexity of the deception. Moreover, these factors also affect the social media used to perform the deception, in addition to the methods used to deceive the target. The social media platform can likewise affect the success of the deception. For example, heightened security can decrease online deception by deterring or preventing attacks. However, it might also have the opposite effect by instilling a false sense of security in the target users. Similarly, low security can increase online deception or perhaps do the opposite and decrease it by increasing the suspiciousness of potential targets.

Nowadays, numerous online deception techniques exist. However, the social media where the deception is performed; the characteristics of the targeted user (single or multiple targets, cognitive ability, background, etc.); and even the purpose or aim of the deception all affect the choice of the deception technique. Finally, the target or potential victim must be considered as well. Indeed, while social media platforms are expected to safeguard the user’s data and information, this task becomes much harder when human factors are considered. While the user’s ICT (Information and Communication Technology) literacy does help in detecting online deception (Tsikerdekis & Zeadally, 2014), other factors can play a role in the deception of the users, such as their cognitive biases.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fake News: Fabricated stories, hoaxes, propaganda or inaccurate information that appear to be genuine, generally crafted and spread to deliberately misinform and deceive people.

Social media: The collection of tools and online platforms built around the creation and sharing of user-generated content within self-organizing groups and communities of interest.

Self-Disclosure: The act of voluntarily sharing and disclosing personal information to others.

Artificial Intelligence: An umbrella term that encompasses many disciplines with the unified goal of building technologies that mimic human intelligence.

Machine Learning: A subfield of Artificial Intelligence, it is the pursuit of providing computers with the ability to acquire knowledge through the analysis of data and other interactions, and to ultimately apply this knowledge to new settings.

Deception: A deliberate and intentional act meant to mislead others into a state of false beliefs.

Deepfake: Very realistic and convincing fake media content that was produced or altered using artificial intelligence-enabled techniques.

Privacy Paradox: The contradiction between the users’ reported concerns for safeguarding their privacy, and their actual behavior which exposes and reveals their private and sensitive information.

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