Unni Menon
Unni Menon

Or is it? Maybe, maybe not.

Come along as we take a behind-the-scenes look at news and social media, and the extent to which they are used, abused, and even manipulated to achieve desired outcomes. Outcomes, which more often than not, aren’t in your best interest. We will look at how content is distributed and targeted, and walk you through the basics of fighting misinformation and withstanding social engineering.

So hold onto your weighted blanket and turn off that ASMR, and think of this as a gentle, non-invasive, colon cleanse for your third eye.

Unbiased news sources, and a lack thereof.

Used to be that your Grandpa got his worldview from the local newspaper or the News at 6™ and all was well. But anyone that hasn’t been living under a rock (NORAD being the only exception) could tell you that a lot has changed in the last 20 years.

There are more news outlets and aggregators out there now than there are Starbucks Frappuccino flavours or Memecoins. As a result, you can type the most preposterous thing into your favourite search engine and a thousand journalists, twitterati, bloggers, bots, and former Area 51 employees will magically appear to justify and validate what is, more likely than not, just your opinion.

This phenomenon ultimately leads to you, your neighbour, and your uncle that’s always going on about “those people!” inhabiting entirely different universes, despite being a part of the same reality.

So, where am I going with all this? Simple, your perception shapes your understanding of the world and how you choose to interact with it. If bad actors are constantly throwing sand in what should be an otherwise nourishing informational porridge, you’ll end up with a severe case of indigestion. Fortunately, with the right tools and even a modicum of awareness, this can be avoided.

Behind the news cycle.

You don’t need to be an Economist to understand that advertisement is the lifeblood of modern economies. Like it or not, ads drive the creation & consumption of products, services, news, and entertainment. In the real world, most ad campaigns tend to go for a shotgun approach, which is to say, plastering a bunch of stuff wherever their target audience is most likely to see it, and hoping for the best.

On the web, however, digital marketers don’t need to spray and pray. Instead, audiences can be targeted based on a virtually endless buffet of personal information ranging from locale, age, income, race, gender, diet, politics, streaming habits, and so on. Most of this can be easily harvested from social media posts and profiles, but the rest comes from ad beacons, trackers, and cookies that accumulate and proliferate as people run around the interwebs.

Furthermore, the opportunity to serve you an ad is usually auctioned off in the milliseconds before it is presented to you. As with any auction, the buyer with the biggest budget usually wins. Unfortunately, these budget driven narratives become problematic when applied to politics and public opinion. Implemented in everyday commerce, these tactics and strategies lead to late night purchasing binges on Amazon while your partner is fast asleep. When directed at the news cycle however, this sort of thing leads to election interference, insurrection attempts, and clashes on the street.

Understanding bias & fighting misinformation.

Now, to get the obvious out of the way, Windscribe isn’t a political organization, and there is no inherent political bias to what we do or the services we provide. Our objective has always  been, and will continue to be, enabling unfettered and uncensored access to information on the web.

That being said, political bias in the media is as real as rain whether you lean left, right, centre, or flat earth. As I described earlier, shaping public consensus is how parties operate, and occasionally, get shit done. This also applies to a wide variety of other entities with skin in the game, such as corporations, policy think tanks, and not-for-profits.

Many of these entities happen to be the prime consumers of ad space in online and print news publications. This can, and does, swing the journalistic pendulum in ways that are at best preferential, and at worst unethical. Being aware of this bias and navigating accordingly will help you to cultivate a more balanced and nuanced understanding of current events.

On the flipside, there are also quite a few organizations out there that help combat misinformation online. Most of them have websites dedicated to this purpose, and many also have browser extensions that screen articles for authenticity and veracity to allow you to determine whether you should spend your valuable time consuming them.

In the interest of avoiding bias and maintaining fairness, we won’t be linking to any specific site or extension. Instead, we’d rather you peruse the following portals and pick an arbiter that suits you best: UC Berkeley, TrustedWeb, RAND Corporation.

Bring in the nerds.

Considering this is our blog, and you’re clearly not the TL;DR type, I hope you’ll allow me to conclude with a guided tour of what your friendly neighbourhood VPN can do regarding all that’s discussed so far. Think of this as our moment to shine, like a nerdy Clark Kent ditching his office threads to reveal a juiced up physique and bright red underwear (and if that makes your mind wander, you’re gonna wanna read this next).

Windscribe operates in a space that contains quite a few wolves masquerading as sheep. As such, we take pride in practising what we preach. From our day-to-day interactions with Subreddit and Discord members, to open sourcing our software, and offering expanded access to citizens of nations that practice internet censorship, we strive for honesty and accountability.                    

While we cannot hold your hands while we surf the interwebs together (we’re working on this), our DNS based ROBERT filters deliver the next best thing. By filtering out problematic content before it reaches your screen, ROBERT handles all manner of online nuisances in the background, just like your favourite old timey wizard.

Speaking of nuisances, our Fake News & Clickbait filter takes care of exactly what it says on the bottle. It contains sites that intentionally, but not necessarily exclusively, publish hoaxes and disinformation for purposes other than satire. The sources are available for public review, and users are more than welcome to contact our excellent support staff for edits and/or suggestions.

To top it all off, the Windscribe browser extension further enhances your experience by offering granular control of your online interactions. Beyond the built-in proxying abilities, it also allows you to moderate the usual suspects (cookies, trackers, beacons etc), modify your time zone, prevent malware and phishing attempts, and even banish those utterly annoying social media widgets.

Wherever you may roam.

Much as your dear correspondent would like to keep punching away at this here poor keyboard, it behooves me to take my leave and let you digest what's been said so far.

As I bring this to a close, wherever you may be, whatever it is you do, whether you read the whole thing or just skipped right to the very last paragraph, I’d like to leave you with a few words of wisdom from a wiser man than I: Think for yourself, question authority.

Unni Menon
Unni Menon