Tuesday, 28 April 2009

In Passing

THEY don’t trust YOU

Three more illustrations of the old axiom, “Governments default to secrecy:”

The photo-op that frightened a city.

On Monday morning, one of the 747s used to ferry arount the president of the U.S. was dispatched to the Statue of Liberty, escotred by fighter jets.  Assignment: Get some fresh glamour shots of the plane.

The Air force said the flight needed to remain confidential.  So while New York police knew about it, as did at least one person in the mayor’s office,[1] regular New Yorkers remained in the dark.

As a result, to onlookers Monday all across downtown Manhattan -- where the World Trade Center once stood -- the photo shoot looked like a terrorist attack. - The Wall Street Journal, “A ‘Classified’ Photo Op Turns Into A Soaring Blunder for the White House”
And just why did this need to be classified?  The President wasn’t aboard.[2Widespread notice would have prevented panic. But no...

Is your bank in trouble?  Mum’s the word!
The coming “stress tests” are supposed to... finally divulg[e] how the government itself views the banks’ health. In fact, regulators are constantly making these judgments, using a method called Camels...

These Camels scores are treated as top secret.  It is a criminal violation to even disclose them to the public...

The problem is that the banking system has lost much public trust already...

One way to restore condifence would be to embrase disclosure full bore...  The other approach is to rewrite the securities laws, giving coporate officers or top government officials latitude to hold back disclosures in situations where the national interest outweighs that of the shareholders. - Dennis Berman
“Corporate officers or top government officials,” huh?  We’ve seen how well that worked with Bank of America’s Merrill-Lynch acquisition.  (I bet all those BofA shareholders - whose company is now being warned that it “needs to boost capital” - feel good about being lied to “in the national interest.”)

When it comes to epidemics, “tweeting’s” not golden.
...Despite all the recent Twitter-enthusiasm about this platform’s unique power to alert millions of people in decentralized and previously unavailable ways, there are quite a few reasons to be concerned about Twitter’s role in facilitating an unnecessary global panic about swine flu.

...The “swine flu” meme has [spread? (word omitted) - o.g.] so far that misinformed and panicking people armed with a platform to broadcast their fears are likely to produce only more fear, misinformation and panic.

Thus, unlike basic internet search -- which has been already been nicely used by Google to track emerging flu epidemics -- Twitter seems to have introduced too much noise into the process: as opposed to search requests which are generally motivated only by a desire to learn more about a given subject, too many Twitter conversations about swine flu seem to be motivated by desires to fit in, do what one’s friends do (i.e. tweet about it) or simply gain more popularity.

In situations like this, there is some[thing (?) - o.g.] pathological about people wanting to post yet another status update containing the coveted most-searched words – only for the sake of gaining more people to follow them. ...  The bottom line is that tracking the frequency of Twitter mentions of swine flu as a means of predicting anything thus becomes useless...

...In the context of a global pandemic -- where media networks are doing their best to spice up an already serious threat -- having millions of people wrap up all their fears into 140 characters and blurt them out in the public might have some dangerous consequences, networked panic being one of them... - Evgeny Morozov, “Swine flu: Twitter’s power to misinform
Yep, sure don’t want the masses going around the official channels.  Why, who knows what they might discover?

HT:  Twitter story via Slashdot.
[1]  Unfortunately for that person (a junior aide named Marc Mugnos), he didn’t happen to be the mayor.

[2UPDATE 090429 14:25: Little Miss Attila doesn’t agree:
The only potential justification for the media blackout (and FBI/law enforcement blackout) was that one of the passengers was a very high-value individual indeed.  Like, the highest.
Arlen Specter?

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