Op-Ed: Fake News are 21st Century Personal Threats by Tom Timberman


Most of us are beneficiaries of the Information Revolution and depend on smart phones, tablets, the latest apps and believe personal together-comings are quaint and to be avoided. Some like me, use the gadgets, but still prefer talking to people in more than 140 characters. So yesterday.

We’ve learned there is a dark side to this miracle. And become somewhat accustomed to identity theft, snatch and grab of large data bases from public and private sector organizations, understand big brother may be watching/listening, but often believe it won’t happen to us.

This false sense of privacy provided by impenetrable passwords, e.g. “password”, “date of birth” or your “pet’s name” is just that. Or your employer insists on 12 mixed-character versions that are changed every month or quarter, which is a real nuisance because they’re easy to forget. Thus, the tiny print on the really small note in the purse or wallet comes to the rescue.

This is not a lecture on cyber security, although we all probably need one from time to time. Over the past two years we’ve learned how governments can influence our opinions on just about anything, including elections. We know marketing firms have been doing this for decades with subliminal messaging and tricky advertizing.

But, those declining numbers of people in my generation who remember the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s honey-traps, eavesdropping, videos and blackmail have been somewhat startled to see 21st Century miracle versions of their klunky forbearers return. And it seems any country or organization or hacker with enough savvy can penetrate our brains with repetitions of well-phrased reinterpretations of anything or just propaganda and now fake news or info.

Therefore, we really have to question not only how safe our gadgets are, and there are ways to improve their security, but now we can’t trust even the words we hear or images we see from sources we’ve used for years. This is cross-border, global rumor-mongering on speed.

Let me give an example or two. As many people know the inauguration of Donald Trump as president takes place at Noon on January 20, 2017 and the very next day the Women’s March occurs. There have been phony stories about the inauguration Day weather, or the magnet-like effect the event will have on pick-pockets or druggies or the deranged or just folks who like to create havoc and pick fights. The March has been the target of similar warnings to include attempts at creating racial and ethnic divisions to discourage people from attending either event.

All of this is why I like to talk to people whom I know and trust in person and understand if the blog or the tweet or the messaging sounds irrational and weird, it probably is. But, just pause, think and apply some common sense before you react. And go to the inauguration and March if you want.

After providing all this wisdom, I will have to confess I’ve had my identity borrowed and I fell for the email from Nigeria about a friend needing $1500.00 IMMEDIATELY.

Tom Timberman is an expert on military policy and now lives on the Eastern Shore. Among his many assignments with the US Department of State, he has headed a provincial reconstruction team, embedded within a combat brigade in Iraq. He has also helped implement a new counterterrorism strategy in South East Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

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