Whom to ask when you want to know if electronic records are being subtly altered?  A five-year-old, evidently.

My son is in the dinosaur phase, and watches paleontology shows religiously, so we get pretty familiar with them too. One of his favorites, watched via streaming video, recently began to seem <em>different</em> somehow. We could swear certain lines and scenes had shifted, but we had no evidence. But he confirmed it: he knew pretty definitively whether our hunches were right about each little change.

This is likely an innocent matter involving regional broadcasting rights or the like, but it illustrates another effect of information centralization: when everything is electronic and cloud-based, there are new opportunities for information manipulation.

  • Governments or corporations with legal control over content, or sufficient coercive power, might simply modify or erase key sources, using electronic centralization to be thorough about it, or thorough enough. This is especially likely as more governments attempt to control the Internet, or portions of it, and the option of coercion will grow as more governments inclined to censorship increase their economic power. This was much more difficult in the era of paper, though some governments tried: owners of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia would sometimes receive new version of articles to paste in when old versions of history fell out of favor.
  • Hackers might make the same kinds of changes illicitly. Sufficiently adept or targeted changes could sew real confusion. (We saw a preview of this when an American politician garbled some American history, and her supporters attempted to alter the Wikipedia entry so that history fit the candidate’s confusion. The decentralized nature of Wikipedia thwarted this effort.)

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Image: denn (Flickr)

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