Virtual Unreality: Just Because the Internet Told You So, How Do You Know It's True? by Charles Seife Viking 3.5 stars Richard James Havis Most people in the developed world use Google and Wikipedia to look things up on a regular basis, and many will have noticed inaccurate results and entries cropping up in both. Charles Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, explains why this is so in Virtual Unreality , and then digs deeper in the DNA of the internet to look at other sources of misinformation. Far from being an alarmist report on how the internet is going to cause the decline of civilisation, this measured work is well-researched and easy to read. Seife outlines the technology behind the issues, and then shows how such technology can be used, and misused, to the detriment of the unwary web surfer. In an age when it's often necessary to part with personal details with a click of the mouse, the book is an essential read for those who want to maintain their security. Seife starts with an extended metaphor that compares digital information with our DNA. Just as a real-life virus corrupts our DNA, so a computer virus messes with the information we get on a computer, so that we do things that are against our own interests. Worse, there are now legions of people skilled in manipulating the information so that our resulting actions will benefit them, not us. Wikipedia, Seife's first target, may be an obvious one: that the website can be edited anonymously by people with no knowledge of the subject is asking for trouble. Articles are often manipulated by companies and subjects to show them in a better light, and although inaccuracies are often spotted by other users, that can take time. An incorrect fact can appear on Wikipedia, and may then be picked up by users and repeated on their own sites. Wikipedia editors may then refer to those sites repeating the incorrect fact to confirm the fact in the original article. Google's search engine is more insidious, and has affected the news-gathering process in a negative way, Seife notes. Whereas journalists are trained to write articles that bring new events to the attention of readers, higher online page views are achieved by seeing what is trending on Google. It's an upside-down situation: instead of readers following the lead of journalists, page views increase if journalists follow the lead of potential readers. Reputable papers still have journalists and editors to keep publications on track, Seife says, but their efforts could be sidelined in the battle for advertising. Other chapters deal with scams to part the susceptible from their cash. Chatbots - computer programs that can converse in text over the net - are rife on dating sites, Seife writes, convincing the lonely that they have found their true love - and asking for a hefty sum of money. A core theme underlying the book is that although the internet has enabled access to much more information than we could ever access in the pre-digital age, we may not actually be better informed.