Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Who's Afraid of the Sony Hacks?

The Sony Hack thing confuses me.

Not that Sony has been hacked. And not that North Korea is suspected in the hacking.

What confuses me is the reaction:


Is there something I’m missing? Yes, these hackers have made allusions to 9/11 if the Sony film “The Interview” is released – and it appears Sony has pulled the film from release after three major cinema chains in the United States said they would not play the film on is proposed Christmas Day release.
But I’m reading everywhere that these guys are terrorists. Here’s what David Auerbach is saying at Slate:

[w]hile this attack is particularly damaging to Sony’s rank and file, the hack itself poses no threat to people’s lives or critical infrastructure. But by so effectively creating a climate of fear and making threats of actual violence, the Guardians of Peace have raised the specter of genuine cyberterroristic acts to come. These acts aren’t scary because they’re ingenious, but because they could be easily replicated by anyone with the right resources and enough malice.

Alison Willmore, writing at Buzzfeed, has the most ludicrous things to say about the situation:
The movie engages with how ludicrous it can be that pop culture can bridge such enormous gaps between people as well as how unstable it can be as common ground, but it still ultimately has faith in pop culture’s inclusiveness and ability to shake the world. And in this case, it kind of has, though not in the way anyone might have guessed. “You know what’s more destructive than a nuclear bomb?” Kim asks quavery sincerity in the movie. “Words.” Not to mention jokes.

Unless I’m mistaken, the film isn’t meant to bridge cultures – it’s just entertainment. A paranoid hermit state may not see it that way, granted. But it’s no worse than North Korean propaganda out there depicting the United States as a vast Detroit landscape of shattered houses and factories where the beneficent North Koreans are there to pass out cakes to the starving masses.

Yes, we ought to laugh it off. That’s our nature. But then again, our nature is also to use predator drones on Muslim weddings, spy on every last person in the world and endorse torture. (And we’re also not above conducting cyber attacks of our own. Stuxnet, anyone?) So maybe I understand the North Korean paranoia. I just don’t understand the paranoia I’m seeing here.

Slate also wants hacked material from Sony not to be published in the United States by media outlets who would publish any hacked material if it came from, say, Julian Assange or Chelsea Manning – but they want to draw a line here. Why? (And it seems Slate, in publishing this piece by Jacob Weisberg, wants to have its cake and eat it too. Justin Peters, writing at Slate, seems to think the provenance of the hack shouldn't proclude publishing if there is real news interest present.

But the decision to desist from publishing this stuff should be based on ethics and respect for the right of free expression, not legal pressure. News outlets should obviously cover the story of the hack itself, the effect on Sony, the question of how it happened, and who’s responsible. This is a big and legitimate news story. But when it comes to exploiting the fruits of the digital break-in, journalists should voluntarily withhold publication. They shouldn’t hold back because they’re legally obligated to—I don’t believe they are—but because there’s no ethical justification for publishing this damaging, stolen material. (I am articulating my opinion here, not Slate’s policy. While the magazine has been judicious in its coverage of the emails, it did publish this article about indications of a gender pay gap among Sony executives and the editors will continue to apply their own judgment about when and whether to cover stories arising from the hack as they emerge.)

Weisberg wouldn’t be saying this if the information was being leaked from, say a big oil company or the Koch brothers.

As Will Macavoy says in The Newsroom, we as a nation didn’t used to scare so easily. Why be scared now?

No comments: