The Twitter Paradox and the Artificially Generated Stampede

twitter-deathRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump once proclaimed, “To tweet or not to tweet.  That is the question.”  On second thought, maybe it was William Shakespeare or one of the Kardashians.  Not sure it matters.  One person’s visionary is another person’s imbecile.

For several years, I’ve been attempting to deliver an urgent public safety message to the general public.

People have a fundamental right to know…
that if they’re in a large, confined crowd (stadium, ballpark, etc.) and receive an emergency evacuation order and/or panic-inducing information from their cell phone or mobile device…
it’s almost certainly a malicious hoax designed to create an artificially generated stampede.

I’m not going to offer a prolonged explanation of the “artificially generated stampede.”  There are 100+ articles on this site.  Pick a few at random and give ’em a read.  If you possess a 9th grade reading comprehension level, I’m fairly confident they’ll make sense.

I’ve written letters to federal agencies, members of Congress and state officials.  I’ve corresponded with NCAA Division I presidents, chancellors and university police chiefs.  I’ve repeatedly tried to gain the ear of the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, MLS, WWE, UFC, NASCAR and Indy Racing.  Results have been mixed.

Back when I launched my awareness campaign, I had some moral reservations about using social media to disseminate this specific message.  Because naturally, what if by putting it out there, it puts an idea in someone’s head?  What if someone decides to take the idea and run with it?  What if someone attempts to execute an artificially generated stampede?  It’s the most obvious concern and has been a recurring theme for five years running.

My research indicates that when I broach the subject, even though it’s a very generic concept, about 75% of the initial reactions are along the lines of, “Whoa, I never thought of that.”   Therefore, I believe it’s reasonable to assume that the average U.S. citizen does not have a sufficient grasp of how venue emergency evacuation protocol has been compromised, and in a sense, rendered permanently obsolete.

Nevertheless, I made a moral determination to use social media to spread the message.  Why?  Because I truly believe there is a moral imperative.  People have a right to know the truth.  Either the general population is allowed access to this generic public safety information OR they are not.  Either you tell people the truth or you deliberately conceal it.  These two propositions and their respective outcomes are mutually exclusive.  Much like a coin toss.  It’s either gonna be heads or tails.  You can’t have it both ways.

Since the government and private industry have made a “non-coordinated, covertly subversive” decision to withhold this information, I believe someone should have the courage to step up.  Because it’s reasonable to assume that one of these days, the variables and the dynamic will be put to the test.  Someone will test the cracks in the system.  The artificially generated stampede, whether intentional or unintentional, will eventually be ATTEMPTED.  Now, will it result in a full fledged stampede or worst case scenario dominipede (multiple, simultaneous stampedes)?  Honestly, I do not know.  I imagine that would depend on a variety of factors: the level of technological sophistication, the ability to propel the information saturation in a decentralized fashion (VIRAL BLITZKRIEG), the quantity and variety of attack vectors and the degree of planning, determination and intent.

Now let me be blunt.  I am not the only person who has ever conceived of the wireless equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater.  However, I may be the only person to write about it… in exhaustive detail.  This leaves me with a uniquely precarious decision.

Is it morally justifiable to disseminate this specific brand of information via social media?

I believe the answer to be a resounding yes.

So why utilize facebook but not twitter?  It’s a question I’ve wrestled with and continue to do so.

Now this might be difficult to accept, but if you believe there’s a discernible inevitability in play… if you accept the futuristic premise of the artificially generated stampede, then you also must accept the fact that social media forums can be used as a weapon of terror.  No, not hurt feelings and lost compensation.  This isn’t about pride or money.  It’s about maiming and killing people, possibly on an incomprehensible scale.

So if you take a long-term event horizon regarding the ubiquitously expanding presence of social media, it stands to reason there’s an analogy in play.  Certain social media platforms would logically be more dangerous than others.  I doubt this will appear on next year’s SATs, but…

facebook : hand gun
twitter : AR 15

There’s this kind of weapon.

And then there’s this kind of weapon.



Another analogy.

posts on facebook : ordinary ammunition
tweets on twitter : hollow-point bullets

A hollow-point bullet has a pit or hollowed out shape in its tip.  It physically expands upon entry.  This decreases its penetration impact and enables it to destroy more of its target.

Yet another analogy.

facebook : using the “like” button
twitter : using the “retweet” button

All of those seemingly harmless hash tags could actually function as “indiscriminate force multipliers.”

For example, let’s speculate that someone wishes to create a panic in an NFL stadium.  The content of the tweet is relatively straightforward.  Just for the sake of argument, we’ll use the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The FBI and DHS have ordered an emergency evacuation for Heinz Field.  Remain calm.  Exit immediately. #pittsburghsteelers #HeinzField #MikeTomlin #BigBen

A second tweet could be sent with the same content, but alternating hashtags.
#NFL #SteelersNation #herewego #AntonioBrown #stairwaytoseven

The possibilities are infinite.

#cityofbridges #gameday #fantasyfootball #RogerGoodell
#postgazette #tribunereview #observerreporter

and so on.

Think of it in terms of bomb threats.  Policy and protocol exist to handle conventional bomb threats.  But not hoax bomb threats scaled for a decentralized, cellular saturation.  Eventually, this lack of contingency planning will come under scrutiny after someone challenges the status quo.  This is not terribly complex.  It’s merely the modern, technological equivalent of shouting FIRE in a crowded theater.  Except it would likely be multiple theaters.  Instead of one threat, there are hundreds if not thousands.  Possibly tens of thousands.

Like I was saying, this isn’t rocket science.  There’s even a loose term for it — “infobomb.”  I’ve adapted that definition — “viral blitzkrieg.”  Information specifically attenuated for the purpose of spinning out of control while preying upon people’s fear and taking advantage of wireless communication channels.  This is the reason twitter presents an exceptionally dangerous social media platform.  Unless you curtly divulge the possibility of what might go terribly wrong.  And that’s why I feel uncomfortable using it over the long haul.

Rest assured, there are even bigger questions in play.

* Does a human stampede qualify as a weapon of mass destruction?

* Is it ethically conscionable to produce and advertise a blueprint for how to kill innocent civilians without conventional weaponry?

* What gives someone the right to broach an undiscussable cyber-security threat that could irreparably damage the entire sports and live entertainment industry?

* Can a single individual ultimately be held accountable for “societal engineering,” possibly ushering in a new era of reclusiveness and paranoia?

* Where does one draw the line between relaying necessary public safety information as opposed to haphazard fear mongering?

* Could one person essentially create and define a “black swan” event of irreversible consequence?

In the event of an artificially generated stampede or dominipede, I simply cannot fathom the notion that… well, we learned a valuable lesson, but nothing will come out of it moving forward.  That just wouldn’t make sense.

Think in terms of the aftermath of 9/11.  We witnessed the creation of the trillion dollar Department of Homeland Security as well as awareness campaigns that extend well beyond the airlines.  “See something, say something” applies to just about everything nowadays.  Every arena, every amphitheater, every motor speedway, every stadium, every ballpark, every train station, every county fair, every airport.  Why?  Well, because 9/11 was transformational.  It ushered in a new level of heightened situational awareness, and also, a reliance on cooperation from the general public.  It forced people to recalibrate their expectations regarding personal safety and physical security.

In summation, five years ago I decided to pursue a course of action — informing people of their human rights.  In this case, the right to be aware.  I saw something.  So I said something.  And I will continue to say something.  But do I have all the answers?  Of course not.  When faced with a hypothetically transformative issue that would alter the course of humanity, there’s no room for moral absolutism.  However, there’s plenty of space for moral relativism — propositions analogous to societal, cultural, and technological circumstances.

Make no mistake.  Challenging issues are often paradoxes.  Does a cancer-stricken grandmother illegally consuming a marijuana brownie (to help spur her appetite and cope with the chronic pain) send a bad message to her grandson Billy?  Do DUI checkpoints serve as an effective deterrent and bolster public safety OR do they violate laws governing unlawful search and physical detention?  What about the use of eminent domain to seize someone’s property in order to build a casino?  Does this violate personal property rights OR is it beneficial to the local economy.

My point — it all descends into a judgment call.  There are reasons these “paradoxical” issues are difficult to resolve.  Because anyone with a reasonable amount of intellectual fairness can see how these issues have two distinct sides.  Matters of tremendous significance are rarely black and white.

Let’s just say that it’s kinda difficult to solve a dilemma on behalf of the entire human race… all of it based on a hypothetical no less.  It’s likely impossible.  The best you can do is to present a moral case and deliver an appropriate amount of propaganda in an attempt to address something I’ve come to refer to as the “cataclysmic conundrum.”

After all, if you wanna fix sumpin’, you should admit there’s sumpin’ that needs a fixin’.  Otherwise, you ain’t gotta shot.