Stealing the Super Bowl

For the past 10 years, I’ve been concerned that somebody might try to “steal the Super Bowl.”  Now what exactly does that mean?  Well, it means that some person out there with a specific agenda… would try to take advantage of the biggest, live televised event in the United States.  And exploit it to their advantage.  Seriously, if you wish to dispense propaganda, what better an opportunity to promote your cause?  Black Lives Matter, Abortion is Murder, Impeach Trump, #MeToo, etc.  With the eyes and ears of the world aggressively focused on Minneapolis, Minnesota, February 4, 2018, from 6pm – 11pm, it seems like the optimum moment to state your case.  A hundred million+ captive viewers is a pretty big deal.

But what also concerns me is the potential for real-time manipulation, of and/or by, the players, owners, coaches, fans, advertisers, producers, announcers and basically anyone with skin in the game.  In theory, that number trends endless.

What if North Korea launched a nuclear missile during the big game?  And it was targeting Hawaii?  If the announcers declined to broach the subject, there would be ethical ramifications.  To purposely remain silent while the country was facing an imminent nuclear attack… well, that just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Alright, that’s a tad extreme.  Let’s try something within the realm of workable rationalism.

Let’s say it’s the Steelers vs. Saints.  Shortly after kickoff, multiple pipe bombs are detonated in the respective cities of Pittsburgh and New Orleans, targeting innocent civilians in crowded sports bars.  U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota is heavily fortified, but these alternate locations would represent high value, soft targets of a different nature.  It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that such an attack was terror-inspired.  Whether foreign or domestic, the notion of it happening in these two specific cities could not be dismissed as some random coincidence.  Reports of injuries and casualties immediately surface.  All of a sudden, the announcers are faced with a perilous challenge.  How do you make this news publicly available on live television and avoid sparking a panic, or at the very least, significant disruption, in sports bars in Pittsburgh, New Orleans and across the country?  It’s my contention that they would be morally compelled to alert the viewers.  After all, what if there were additional bombs at other sports bars?  A decision to purposely conceal critical, timely, incoming information ain’t gonna work here.  As you can see, this particular threat extends beyond public safety.  It’s a challenging hypothetical with a moral component of unexplored consequence.

Even though it’s uncharted territory, there exists a loose precedent.  Most people learned about the 1980 assassination of John Lennon during a Monday Night Football broadcast.  Howard Cosell’s words had an unforgettable emotional impact because of the unique timing of the event and the worldwide significance of the shooting.  Did the shooter, Mark Chapman, intentionally time his killing with Monday Night Football to ensure maximum exposure?  Back then, I doubt it.  But nowadays?

John Lennon was killed 37 years ago.  Quite some time before the explosion of social media.  And well before the emergence of powerfully, decentralized technological platforms like facebook and twitter.

My classic example for stealing the Super Bowl is theoretically grounded in the “weaponization” of social media.  Weaponization, eh?  Yes.  It’s a word that’s suddenly on the uptick.

I often throw out the following scenario.  What if Donald Trump tweeted that a hijacked plane might be targeting the Super Bowl?  Even worse, what if his twitter account was hacked?  If that’s the case, you should officially place a single bet.  That all bets are off!

But what if Trump just witnessed something he didn’t like?  Antonio Brown is the highest paid wide receiver in the NFL.  He’s a black superstar and a publicity seeker with an enormous social media following.  What if Brown whipped out a bright red Make America Great Again hat, threw it on the ground, and defiantly stomped on it DURING the national anthem?  All of a sudden, this sounds a little more plausible.  Agreed?  We’ve got an impetuous president with an insatiable appetite for television and a perpetual desire to criticize the NFL.  Now what’s the back-up plan for when Trump tweets… Antonio Brown is a pathetic DISGRACE!  All self-respecting Americans must pick up and leave their seats.  If you love our FLAG and our GREAT country, you need to show it!  By temporarily moving to the concourse. NOW!!!

If any of that sounds familiar, it’s because a few months ago, Trump evacuated his own Vice President Mike Pence from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

U.S. Bank Stadium in Minnesota, the home of Super Bowl 52, has a capacity of 66,655.  If a few hundred people were to unexpectedly herd toward the concourses, I imagine a lot of people, at a bare minimum, would wonder “what the hell is going on?”  If that number was greater than a thousand, I suspect it could spark a panic.  After all, something like this would be both totally unanticipated and utterly unprecedented.  Certain things just don’t mix.  One of them is the perception of large numbers of people behaving irrationally in unfamiliar, confined spaces.

Still not concerned?  Let’s make it even more believable.  Just before the Super Bowl is set to begin, Antonio Brown sends out a tweet containing a pro-shot video of him and his buddies throwing Trump/Pence t-shirts and yard signs into a roaring fire, making incendiary comments about Trump’s children and mocking his ability to lead the nation.  #BLM #Resist.  Do you honestly think that Trump, the “twitter pugilist,” the “reckless counter-puncher” who “hits back 10x harder,” would patiently wait for 5 hours until the Super Bowl safely reached its conclusion?  Uh, no.

There is a reason that contingency plans don’t exist for scenarios like these.  It’s because, by their very nature, they are “hypothetically undiscussable.”  Mostly due to the sensitive nature of stadium emergency evacuation protocol, coupled by the fact that such an action would involve indiscriminately killing innocent civilians without conventional weapons.  The weaponizing of a stampede and scenarios like these are known as “black swans.”  Similar to 9/11, nobody was really allowed to raise the prospect of hijacked airplanes intentionally destroying high value civilian targets… until after it happened.  For much the same underlying reason, you won’t be hearing about the wireless equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater… until after it happens… or is attempted.  The material will remain unavailable for public consumption.

Speaking of Trump, his personal twitter account is currently ranked #20 (44 million followers).  On December 13, 2017, shortly after Doug Jones (D-AL) defeated Roy Moore (R-AL) for the Alabama U.S. Senate seat, Trump tweeted and CNN anchor Anderson Cooper responded…

But guess what?  Cooper’s twitter feed, which has 10,000,000 followers, was hacked.  These social media hacks have become so commonplace.  They barely even register as a blip in the news cycle.  The reply quickly went viral because it seemed so uncharacteristic of Cooper.  The twitter security issue was eventually fixed, but not until an estimated hour had passed.  Sixty minutes might not seem like a great deal of time.  But when the entire world is focused on a single event, say for instance the Super Bowl, a lone malicious tweet could have tremendous consequence.

Time doesn’t magically stand still during the Super Bowl and Trump isn’t the only person with a twitter account.  One of the more notable accounts higher than Trump — CNN’s Breaking News ranks #16 with 54 million followers.  Some of the others accounts and individuals that draw Trump’s ire… @BarackObama (97 million followers), @nytimes (40 million… #failing), @cnn (38 million… #fakenews), @HillaryClinton (20 million… #crooked).  Don’t dismiss these other accounts in the top 100 — @NFL, @ESPN, @sportscenter.  High profile twitter handles often function co-dependently.  Meaning the individuals who administer these accounts have a greater time-sensitive inclination to share, tag, like, favorite, tweet and retweet.

Just an aside — guess who’s currently #10 on the twitter list with 64 million followers?  It’s our good friend Justin Timberlake, who coincidentally will be performing at the 2018 Super Bowl halftime extravaganza.  Small world, isn’t it?  Wasn’t he the co-conspirator of “nipplegate” at Super Bowl 38?  What if Timberlake had an automated tweet ready to go during his performance?  A deliberate promotional stunt designed to go viral?  And someone of significant repute decided to weigh in.  What if a fellow celebrity like Katy Perry or Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift or Rihanna or Lady Gaga decided to chime in?  Or even worse, had their account hacked?  And what if said hacker had an agenda that went beyond bullying or making crass statements?  What if the content was designed to create a real-world panic?  It’s not a terribly complex concept.  Think in terms of the wireless equivalent of shouting “FIRE” in a crowded theater.  Those 5 musicians all have twitter followings in excess of 75 million.  They’re respectively ranked #1, #2, #4, #5 & #7.

Here’s the deal.  We live in an increasingly hyper-connective world.  Real-time tweets are analyzed with tremendous scrutiny.  It might be a good idea to finally start thinking outside the “cellular box.”  Every day, with the media coverage dominated by the latest hack and/or lingering anticipation of the next presidential twitter tirade/tweet-storm, it might be a wise idea to explore vulnerabilities regarding existing wireless expectations.  Don’t forget the excessive hash tags, automated bots, online identity theft and society’s propensity for viral hoaxes.  Maybe it’s time to reconsider our conventional approach to major events with respect to TECHNOLOGICAL FRAGILITY.  Regrettably, no such term currently exists.  Hmm, maybe there’s a reason for that.

In the days of the Colosseum, the games were held below.  I fear the moment in time when the games are held above, when the fans become the players, when the spectators become the combatants.” – sonofsaf