We live in a different age than existed just 10 years ago. The Internet has taken desktop publishing to an extreme.
Those who spread fear, uncertainty, and doubt need to beware. You’re being watched. You can’t get away with business as usual.
The times, they are a changin’. Fast.
My case in point today is the recent flurry of so-called news about viruses hitting the Mac. The headlines were everywhere. Mac OS X gets first virus. Or, the Mac gets another virus.
Worse, some headlines screamed, ‘Macs Just Like Windows: Prone to Virus and Security Holes.’ You get the idea.
The only problem with all the noise is that very little of it was really true. Mac users know that. Windows users, the great unwashed masses of soon-to-be switchers, don’t know it.
Fear, uncertainty and doubt were spreading faster than bird flu noise during an Alfred Hitchcock movie remake.
When there’s that much noise going on, there’s a fire. Where there’s a fire, there’s smoke.
The latest smoke being blown is not from Microsoft vs. Linux, or Symantec warning against OS X exploits, it’s from McAfee and the media.
McAfee for creating a journalistic virus of FUD, and the media for spreading it. Shame on both. You’re being watched.
For example, the latest such headline came on vnunet.com which screamed “Intel Macs vulnerable to ‘chip level’ threats.’
Since most people glance at headlines and merely scan articles, what would that headline say to the average Mac or Windows PC user?
“Uh, oh. Another problem for the new Macs.” Or, from the Windows folks, “Well, Macs have vulnerabilities, too.”
Poor Tom Sanders, writing for vnunet.com, exclaims, “Researchers have claimed that “chip-level threats” pose a potential problem for Intel-powered Mac systems.”
On the surface, both the headline and the first paragraph, the “grabber” appear newsworthy, important, and display a sense of urgency, and describe a problem.
The very next paragraph describes a “chip-level threat”. That’s standard journalism process. The only problem, of course, is that the facts, even those detailed in the article, are not worthy of news.
A modern journalist with good credentials and knowledge of the industry would not have bothered creating such non-news and perpetuating such FUD.
It makes you wonder if Tom is working for vnunet.com or writing for McAfee. I still wonder.
Why? Let’s examine the terminology Tom uses to excite the masses, distort the truth, and yet cover his buttocks in the process.
He says there’s a “potential” problem. See? That’s it. It’s a potential problem. Not necessarily a real problem, a problem that actually exists, may exist, or probably will exist.
Sanders is off the hook because he used the “weasel word” (I’m not doing justice to the real weasel, I know) that most readers won’t pay attention to—“potential.”
I could do the same with a headline that says, “VNUNET Journalist Caught Spreading Lies” and then follow it up with another weasel word such as “appears.”
“Sanders appeared to distort the facts…” See how that works?
The writer pointed to a recent white paper by security vendor McAfee about potential problems with Macs now running Intel chips inside.
Forget the fact that the last outbreak occurred in 1998. On Windows. Forget the fact that such a vulnerability was closed years ago by Intel.
To his credit, Sanders puts the typical journalistic Spin of Balance™ on his piece with, “The threat of chip-level attacks is theoretical at this stage, according to security researchers.”
See? He’s off the hook. Again. He even noted that McAfee’s “cautionary white paper was published on the same day that McAfee launched a version of its security software for Intel-based systems.”
That’s called “balance” which would place vnunet.com and Sanders clearly in the journalistic high ground of impartiality. Except for the whole premise and that nasty headline, both of which apparently are designed to get web site hits, inflame readers, and “probably” to spread more FUD.
Even better is the fact that he could only get six worthless paragraphs on a single web page. The rest of the article shows up on Page 2, with six more worthless paragraphs.
Worthless? Yes. As the second page states, “…there is no guarantee that an attack that works on one Intel Mac will succeed in targeting another.”
Second page? There wasn’t enough news for a first page, let alone a second page.
Good old journalist Tom Sanders, who appears to be well educated in the rules of CYA engagement, quotes Shane Coursen of Kaspersky Labs:
“There is always a fine line between fear-mongering and being realistic about what’s out there. Everything I say can be a double-edged sword,” said Coursen. “It might just help if the threat materialises.”
Sanders has quotes from two authoritative sources but sums up their statements with a simple, “…the public should be made aware of the potential threat of chip-level attacks, even if there is only a small chance that such an attack could take place.”
Yes, we should. But being “made aware” and fomenting FUD are two different things. I challenge vnunet.com to come up with a better headline, a better article to tell the story appropriately, instead of resorting to a retail strategy of “bait and switch.”
This week we’ll focus attention on FUD. The Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt that we see more of in online and print publications.
Mac360 reader and long time Mac user Michael Kenney substitutes as a guest writer in a two part article on Mac FUD and viruses beginning early tomorrow (Tuesday).