So last week I read ‘The Cyber Effect’ by Dr Mary Aiken (the CSI Cyber series relies heavily on her and her work) and I would recommend everyone read it (especially if you have kids although I’ll say up front it may alarm you but that’s a good thing). I learned things like the bit of the internet I spend my time in represents somewhere between 1% and 4% of the Web. The other 96-99% is the Dark Web; the unindexed part. A lot of the Dark Web is just government databases, university records and the like but its also where most cybercrime happens on the Darknet on a tiny fraction of this bigger Dark Web. You wouldn’t believe what happens on the Darknet. Read the book and think about internet security a bit more-there is no Big Brother policing it-we need to be more proactive in this area.
Why post a picture of the New Zealand earthquake and then talk about a book? Well the book deals with a lot of things. The author is a forensic cyber psychologist. To me this sounds cool and if the internet had been a bigger thing when I went into higher education this is something I’d have wanted to do. One of the things the book starts to deal with is the relationship of humanity to cyberspace-or the internet and how we interact with it and what it does to us.
I posted a picture of an earthquake focal point in New Zealand because a friend (via Facebook) asked me my opinion on the validity of a piece he’d found on the internet about the notion of a seismic vessel in the area at the time being the cause of the earthquakes. (I can hear some of you laughing). Not only that, the piece talks about Hillary Clinton knowing about the 2011 Christchurch earthquake before it happened amongst other things. I am not going to validate it by providing a link because I am taking a stand against the spreading of deliberate misinformation. Several things strike me about this, and with my newfound cyber knowledge, a desire to share and enlighten came over me so stay with me. It may sound rambling but hopefully you’ll get something out of this.
First up I commend my friend for approaching someone whom he thought would have knowledge of such a claim rather than just looking on the internet (I’m flattered). Because on the internet we tend to find things we’re looking for. Yes you read that right. One of the behaviours we display on the web, most tellingly in cyberchondria (like hyperchondria but enabled by the millions of websites devoted to health issues rather than visits to countless text books and doctors) is looking for things that already support our position, or desired outcome. This is cognitive ease in the case of the earthquake. I have a preconceived idea that the earthquake is man made therefore I will search out information that supports this view and ignore other sources to the contrary. (Not that I’m saying that is what my friend would have done). I would alternatively call it intellectual laziness or a lack of critical thinking and this is bad. Imagine our cave man ancestors displaying this characteristic when, on his way home after a day’s hunting taking his usual route he spies, for the first time ever, a group of large carnivorous beasts on the path but decides that because he always takes the same route home and nothing happens to him then why should today be any different. (Taken to it’s worst case outcome cognitive ease can result in an individual receiving a Darwin award).
Secondly, how the hell is someone allowed to write this codswallop on a news site anyway?
Without being too boring some facts. Not too many numbers. In the last month New Zealand has experience 769 earthquakes of >2 magnitude, of these 49 were >5 mag and can be seen here on the map below (source)
Now a quick look at the map should make you wonder how a boat could be the cause of the onshore events and begin to question the claim.
Next lets think about where they happened. I’ll take just one as an example. How about the 7.8 (first big one) 53km NNE of Amberley that has a focal depth of 23km (source). So now, can a boat with (admittedly big) air guns, acquiring seismic data offshore in water depths of >100m cause a 7.8 magnitude earthquake at 23km into the earths crust? Intuitively I hope you are all shaking your heads because even if you only did a little physics at school the idea that a big bang of air, which dissipates its energy very quickly in water and even quicker in rock will have no energy left to disturb anything at 10kms into the ground never mind 20kms! So by now you are seriously, and critically, challenging the claim right? So what’s the alternative?
Call me old-fashioned but I think the more obvious explanation is the Alpine Fault zone in the South Island is moving. This is a well understood fault that has apparently moved more than any other on earth in the last 25 million years (source). For the non-geos please understand that the North Island of New Zealand is on the Australian tectonic plate while the South Island is on the Pacific plate. The North Island is being pushed up as the Pacific plate is being pushed under it (this causes things like the Taranaki volcano to form).
credit Mikenorton via Creative Commons.
So maybe my years of learning and geo-knowledge- not an expert but an informed individual-meant that I knew better places to look for reliable data on the internet than the writer of the original piece. Let’s be nice and go with that for the moment. If you still think the boat could cause the earthquakes then in the words of Douglas Adams “…I repeat we have normality. Anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem. Please relax.”
Last of all I want to emphasise the point about critical thinking and encourage you all to use more of it when looking at, and sharing from, the internet because I mention cyber ignorance in the title of the blog. When we are online we are disinhibited, we “act drunk” it feels anonymous, there are no visible teachers, parents or policemen. Humans, when they don’t think they are being observed behave in this way (a lot of what I’m about to write is taken heavily from Dr M. Aiken’s book). Cyberpsychology has a name for it the online disinhibition effect (too many selfies, too many pictures of food you’re about to eat, just too much sharing really) and it leads to something that I think is worse called online escalation. This is basically where your behaviours are amplified because you are online. It becomes worse because people hang out in chat rooms with like-minded people. We positively reinforce each others preconceived ideas and normalise behaviours that in real life we would consider extreme.
Now if your chat rooms are about growing vegetables then visiting them and having your gardening powers amplified by positive reinforcement and feedback from other enthusiasts is not a problem. However, if you’re visiting sites that tell you that killing people that don’t look like you is okay then we have, in my opinion, a problem. The principle of non-harm should apply in cyberspace too as far as I’m concerned (John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ essay, 1859).
I have taken an extreme example to make a simple point and to try and attract you to read the book. I would encourage everyone to be aware that your behaviour online is not your real life behaviour. We all need to demonstrate more responsibility online when it comes to sharing information or news sites so that the proliferation of lies, misinformation and dissembling is reduced. We need to be aware that our behaviours directly affect what other people will do online because it’s easier there than in real life where face-to-face contact is needed. I have written too many words. You’ve probably stopped reading. To summarise. Read The Cyber Effect, and no seismic vessel is capable of causing the earthquakes seen off New Zealand in the last week.