There are many ways in which information can be manipulated. Manipulation of information on the Internet is related to one of the following: how the information is shaped; “violent” uses of techniques on the Internet to manipulate users (via e-mails or “violent” advertising) and the monopoles on the Internet.

Shaping of the information

It is very important how both text and images are shaped in view of how these affect users’ choices and decisions. Thus here we will look at two basic types of manipulation of information depending on how it is shaped: images and text.

- Manipulation of images or photos - with digital processing, there is almost no limit to what can be done to an image, and many things are done to images with the best intentions. The question is: when does the pursuit of aesthetics violate our ethics? Although today all viewers are used to the fact that all visual representation can be relatively easily manipulated (e.g. we are used to watching sci-fi movies where anything is possible), we can be easily manipulated by images on a sub-conscious level without actually realizing it. Nobody when reading a newspaper, for example, is thinking about how the images could be designed or altered to manipulate him/her in the articles may be used to manipulate. Here is one example:


A 30-years experienced journalist from the Los Angeles Times was dismissed for forging these two photos of English soldiers in Basra, Iraq.

- Manipulation of text – in all kinds of written media including texts in websites and online articles the text and the actual language serve as powerful tools for manipulating the readers. When considering how language can manipulate we have to look at the following: organization of the text, fonts, colours, graphic design, use of language (e.g. use of more figurative subjective or emotional expressions vs. use of objective matter-of-fact language). We have to always ask ourselves questions such as: why had the author put this in so small letters and that in letters so much bigger? Reading and thinking a bit more deeply will help you learn reading between the lines and avoid being tricked by manipulated texts. Here is one simple example with how easily one can play with text in order to manipulate the readers:



In the first picture the title of the newspaper says that Michael Jackson is dead. However, in the second picture, there is a big title that Michael is alive and in the corner with small letters it's written that he is alive only in the minds of people. The purpose of the second title is to increase the sales of that newspaper.

“Violence” of Information

The word “violence” here implies the “violent” uses of techniques on the Internet to manipulate users. Here we explore several of these techniques:

- Behavioural targeting – this technique originated as an innovative and widely-used way for online publishers and advertisers to reach their potential clients. However, recently there is a growing concern as to the privacy issues related to this kind of targeting. Essentially behavioural targeting means that online publishers or advertisers can trace one’s browsing history (the web sites you have visited) and use this information to display to this person mostly advertisements that he/she is likely to be interested in. This is a clear example of how nothing on the Internet happens in a vacuum and what you are doing/searching/viewing at the present moment might greatly affect what you will see on the Internet in future which is a kind of manipulation.

- Semantic advertising – this technique is a bit similar to the behavioural targeting explained above in the way that it again aims at displaying only content that is likely to be interesting to the viewers. The difference is that semantic advertising doesn’t analyze the users’ searching/browsing history but it analyzes the web page semantically (analyzes its meaning) in order to determine which ads are appropriate for it and which are not. This again in a way tries to manipulate the users because only advertisements that somebody somewhere thinks are appropriate for the viewers of a given web page will be displayed. Again it’s not the user who decides what to view.

- Spamdexing (“spam” + “indexing”) – this manipulation technique was widely used in the rise of the Internet in 1990s. Essentially it manipulates the search engine indexes (the indexes store the data so that you can search quickly through it without waiting for each single documents to be searched).  There are many methods for spamdexing. For example, one can put a lot of keywords in a web page in order to raise the keyword count in the web page and this way increase its ranking by the search engine making it more likely to be found. This is called keyword stuffing and most contemporary search engines can detect this violation and block the web page. Similarly some hidden text can be put in the webpage so as it is detected by the search engine and again increase the ranking of the page but at the same time is used only to trick and make the users go to the web page thinking they will find there what they want.

- Manipulation of e-mails - recently manipulated e-mails are popular phenomena on the Internet. These are often a way to deceive people for the purposes of illegally obtaining money from them. There are various ways of manipulation by e-mails: ill-intentioned users can make the e-mail appear to be from someone other than the actual sender; they give another e-mail at the end with a different domain to which you are invited to send your answer; they give a satellite phone number; they can also offer a big prize in exchange only some “small” tax etc. For more information and examples of other manipulated e-mails you can play the training e-game “Manipulation of information” in the “Games” section of this website.

Monopoles on the Internet

This is a rather controversial issue nowadays.

First, while there is monopoly on the Internet, the good thing about it is that it is not too durable. Internet and modern technology market are constantly changing. Within only a few years one Internet company can decline and give a way to another. For example, MySpace was the most popular social network until recently when its first-place position was taken by Facebook. This undurability is a sign of how competitive the Internet market can be because if the users deem the product not appropriate for their needs they simply discard it and replace it with the more competitive one.

However, there is also the other side of the coin which shows the opposite tendency – existence of monopoly going on years after years in the various fields of the Internet market (sopping, searching etc.) The so called networking effect builds monopolies on the Internet – if most people you know use a definite search engine it is most likely that you start using it as well. What could be considered as a negative aspect about these is not that they harm the users or charge them more than other companies would but that they cut down on competition and innovation which is again a kind of manipulation. Moreover, if, for example, more and more people are using only one social network so all these people will see one and the same adverts chosen by this social network. While this is a kind of manipulation, it is also the result of these people’s free will to choose this site instead of the other one for which decision they might have had their reasons.

In conclusion, that’s why monopoly on the Internet is controversial: it is changing, it is to a great extend a result of people’s individual decisions and is not always harmful. Nevertheless, we decided to include this topic in order to raise young people’s awareness about it and make them think on the question so that they can form their own opinion about it.