Of fake news, media manipulation and ‘vanishing ink’

Maybe Donald Trump should also consider using vanishing ink.

That is a paraphrased tongue-in-cheek comment by writer Darlene Storm in an article on the Computerworld website. She was writing about the president-elect’s claims that he “knows other things” about alleged Russian hacking, and about his suggestion that people should go back to using pen and paper for important information and send it by courier — presumably, I’m thinking, in an envelope with a personal imprinted wax seal on it to be sure the couriers don’t open it and sell the info to the other side.

Darlene also writes about the breathless headline and story posted by the Washington Post: “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” The article cited unnamed national security officials, who apparently said that although the “Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility,” the “penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.”

Of course, the news spread like a prairie wildfire on a hot August day. I wonder how many people who saw that original headline and article caught the revised versions later, with the Vermont utility issuing a formal statement saying “We detected the (Russian code) malware in a single Burlington Electric Department laptop not connected to our organization’s grid systems.”

As Darlene points out, social media exploded with the fake news. And, no doubt, lots of people out there still believe those bad old Russians are tampering with America’s power grid. Time to stock up on survivalist gear and food. It could be a long, cold winter if the Russians knock out the power grid.

Sigh . . .

It was mission accomplished if authorities wanted to sow more seeds of fear — and hate for the Russians, after Obama’s statement about them interfering with the election process by allegedly hacking into DNC emails.

In fact, some of my readers may remember a post I did here a while back about retired newsman Ted Koppel talking about how insecure the American power grid is, and how it is vulnerable to truly evil forces like ISIS. Readers here told me I was worrying for nothing, and that no one could knock out the entire American power grid.

So, tell that to the American people now. I’m not seeing any reports reassuring them that even if the Russians or ISIS or anyone else hack into a utility company, Americans would hardly be inconvenienced for long. Where are those reports from the Oval Office today? Have I missed them? If you see them, please post the links in the comments section below (I am being sincere here).

The whole thing smacks of mainstream media manipulation by the government, using fake or less-than-complete news — which the Washington Post was only too happy to jump on, perhaps unknowingly taking it a face value without doing any serious investigation first.

Of course, governments everywhere use media for their own less-than-honest ends — if they can get away with it. Politicians float trial balloons through media outlets. They leak things to media outlets. They spread propaganda through the media. But good media outlets usually investigate further — or at least, they should.

Sadly, we live in an age now where any baseless or less-than-accurate claim leaked by anonymous government sources can be spread around the world on Twitter and other social media outlets in a matter of seconds. And the new upcoming leader of the free world tweets like no other leader before him.

What to do about all of this?

I have no answers, except to be more skeptical than ever about government claims that just don’t seem right taken at face value. My first question is usually: Why are they telling me this now?

And, perhaps, to buy stocks in a company selling vanishing ink and quills.

— Jillian

Photo: Time to get back to the quill and inkwell? Source: Smithsonian Institution via Foter.com / No known copyright restrictions

2 thoughts on “Of fake news, media manipulation and ‘vanishing ink’

  1. “Readers here told me I was worrying for nothing, and that no one could knock out the entire American power grid.”
    And I still assert that no one can knock out the entire power grid. The power systems are simply too diverse and dissimilar to all be hacked at the same time. A hacker may be able to shut down one or two of the hundreds of systems in the US, but that would not be for long and critical infrastructure would keep running on batteries.

    Like

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