On Sunday, January 12 at 7:24 am, millions of Canadiens in the nation’s largest province awoke to a jarring emergency push notification on their cell phones. This particular alert was sent throughout Ontario, a region encompassing roughly 14.5 million individuals. Now by and large, Canada is less religious than their American neighbors, but if you ever needed a reason to get your butt to church…
Turns out it was a false alarm. Merely a training exercise gone awry. At 8:06 am, Ontario Power Generation, the company that runs the Pickering Nuclear facility, tweeted that the alarm had been sent in error.
Important update: the alert regarding #Pickering Nuclear was sent in error. There is no danger to the public or environment.
And another Province of Ontario emergency bulletin followed:
So for roughly 40 minutes there was widespread confusion and mass panic. Keep in mind that “time” is a major variable in this equation. During that span, anyone can weigh in and share their thoughts on social media. Politicians, emergency responders, news anchors, celebrities, basically anybody with internet access or a cell phone.
Label me paranoid if you must, but jolt worthy information such as a possible nuclear meltdown is the kinda stuff that gets quickly amplified on social media. Especially when critical details are deliberately omitted. Cam Guthrie understands what I mean. She’s the mayor of Guelph, a city west of Toronto with a population of 100,000+.
“Sending out a ‘hey there was an issue at a nuclear plant but we’re not going to tell you about it specifically and it’s not a big deal’ emergency text, is a terrible idea.”
Having recently watched the HBO miniseries Chernobyl, I would tend to concur.
But let’s consider the non-nuclear fallout. Everyone within a 10 mile radius of the plant gets an official disaster kit with potassium iodide pills. I wonder how many people scrambled to their medicine cabinets and ingested pills as a precautionary measure. Common reactions to iodine include…
- Rash, hives, or acne.
- Joint pain.
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, hands, or feet.
- Wheezing, shortness of breath.
- Trouble speaking, breathing, or swallowing.
- Feeling anxious or irritable.
What about people who suffer from anxiety issues and panic attacks? I wonder how many motor vehicle accidents might have resulted with people fleeing the area out of an abundance of caution. I wonder what might have transpired if the content of the alert was deemed a tad more menacing. Hmm, I wonder… what if it wasn’t a mishap or accident? What if there was a discernible degree of malicious intent? If you watch the news these days, there’s often much discussion of terrorism, fake news, asymmetric cyberthreats, viral hoaxes, hacking and weaponized social media. Does any of this sound familiar?
Obviously, you can see the dilemma here. Social media doesn’t really have a centralized chain of command. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Social media is entirely decentralized and thrives off disinformation. Negative, alarmist stories, and those purposely fabricated, tend to draw greater publicity. In my book, “algorithmic consequences” is an under-appreciated concept. And therein lies the greater cyber-societal problem. So here’s the question I would ask. Will there ever be a cybersecurity incident that directly results in the death of innocent civilians? If you say no, you might just be a little naive. If you say yes, well… you’re probably familiar with the agsaf website.
On second thought, don’t worry so much. Something like this could never happen in the United States! Right?
So here’s the problem as I see it. The biggest televised event in the United States will soon be upon us. In less than three weeks, our country will experience Super Bowl fever. This year’s match up is set for Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. Now guess what’s located about 30 minutes from Miami? Yep, it’s Turkey Point. Turkey Point is a twin reactor nuclear power station located on a 3,300-acre site about a half hour south of Miami.
Now what if a similar screw up, like the one at Pickering, occurred during the Super Bowl? What if the Miami Dept. of Homeland Security, Florida Dept. of Homeland Security and/or Miami-Date County Emergency Management sent out a similar alert? What if these government agencies aren’t all operating on the same exact page? How might such an alert impact a suspenseful crowd of 65,000+? How might others react? What about the Florida governor and its two senators? What about Florida’s 27 members in the House of Representatives? What about every news personality in Miami, in Jacksonville, in Tampa, in Orlando, and so on? See where I’m heading with this? To the best of my knowledge, twitter doesn’t engage in unilateral, real-time censorship or possess broad, magical deletion powers. If you require evidence of this, well just look to the Tweeter-in-Chief.
Still, we can all take great comfort in the fact that nothing bad every happens in Miami, or in Florida, or in the United States, or on the planet earth. Right?
Hmm, I guess the tally would increase to 741 deleted tweets.
America, Canada, even Casablanca…. they all have something in common.
You must remember this
A tweet is still a tweet
A lie is just a lie
As time goes by.