Wartime in the Era of Social Media: Watch What You Share!

As you’ve likely heard by now, Russian forces have entered Ukraine. One nation’s invading a much smaller, less-powerful neighbor is nothing new historically; it’s happened countless many times. But it is new to the cell-phones/social-media/fake-image era.

Real and bogus images and videos will abound, flooding the internet from true reporters, propaganda bots, and well-meaning but ignorant Uncle Bubbas. Without first-hand knowledge of the situation, you are unlikely to know, with absolute certainty, which is which. You also are likely to overestimate your own ability to judge what is authentic.

This message below is nonpartisan, wise advice right now for all: self-discipline and restraint.

Don’t share emotionally manipulative war images and stories without independent verification — preferably from multiple credible media sources. [Mainline media has been caught sharing fake images hastily before.] Even then, choose prudence over impulse, and wait awhile.

It’s easier for most humans to react with reflexive emotion than self-discipline, restraint, analysis, logic, and reason. We meteorologists have seen this ad nauseam with frequent sharing of old, misdated, manipulated and/or outright fake storm images. Far more is at stake here than some old or fake storm image passed off as yesterday’s event!

War images (real, fake or old) will be shared widely without verifying authenticity — sometimes even by “credible” but duped media. For the sake of all, don’t be the fooled fool.

And for those thirsting for some formally published science on the issue of sharing fake, manipulated and/or misleading imagery, here you go. It really does cause social and psychological damage!

The Importance of Openness and Transparency in Science and Government

A nonpartisan (lower-case libertarian) statement on openness and full disclosure, with illustration:

For decades, I’ve been an unrelenting advocate of extreme openness and transparency in government at all levels, for accountability’s sake. [Core principle: It’s your and my tax dollars spent, therefore we are entitled to know.]

Freedom of Information Act is a great concept, but 1) is woefully incomplete, inadequately absolute and full of loopholes, and 2) should be needed far less than it is invoked in 2022. The latter is because the overwhelming majority of documents susceptible to FOIA (and much, much more) already should be digitized and freely available at will, online, unencumbered by hassles and waits of the request process. Don’t make the media and taxpayers request stuff; put it out there proactively, immediately!

When governments (including governmental arms such as science labs, law enforcement and school districts) refuse to disclose non-personal (non-PII) info, or stonewall and foot-drag FOIA requests, that naturally and understandably engenders suspicion and conspiracy theories about cover-ups. Do you want to greatly reduce conspiracy theories about governmental activity? Great, so do I! Here’s the solution: be fully open and transparent about it.

In science, openness is absolutely crucial. It’s a fundamental scientific principle. The core ethics of reproducibility and falsifiability demand it. This also has been a consistent position of mine this entire century, and motivated a team of similarly minded scientists and I to found the first fully open-access, no-cost to readers, open-review meteorology journal in the United States (EJSSM), still going after over 15 years.

Scientific results should be openly available for all to read and learn, immediately upon publication, across all sciences, all the time. Science-journal paywalls, even if temporary, are unscientific — a grotesque violation of the full-openness principle, and should be eliminated today. Do you want to greatly reduce conspiracy theories about scientific activity? Great, so do I! Here’s the solution: be fully open and transparent about it.

These principles, therefore, doubly apply to government-supported or -conducted science. Do you want to greatly reduce conspiracy theories about governmental scientific activity? Great, so do I! Here’s the solution: be fully open and transparent about it.

The same also applies to pretty much any other publicly funded activity at any level, local to state to national, including school curricula, minutes of policy meetings, budgetary deliberations, committees and subcommittees, “white papers” and other reports, and basically every document produced that doesn’t contain personally identifiable information (PII) or legitimately classified national-security sensitivities. Even in the latter cases, simply claiming that should be insufficient for denying access. The agency should bear the burden of proving that claim before an independent watchdog, judge or arbiter.

Standing Against Anti-Semitic Attacks

Throughout history, my Jewish brothers and sisters have put up with way too much garbage, on scales from massive and genocidal to small and local. What happened few days ago at the Colleyville synagogue ended about the best it could, with the terrorist exterminated and the hostages safely rescued. And yet, it continued a disturbing trend of attacks on synagogues, stores and other Jewish gatherings and individuals right here in America.

Hasidic Jews in New York metro routinely have been attacked on the street by local gangs and solo actors. As with Christians in many of the same areas, Jews in the Middle East, China, north Africa, and elsewhere, fear for their lives daily. Not to mention, a slew of physically nonviolent, but verbally abusive anti-Semitism online, from the far left and far right, Islamists, and even a few well-known politicians.

All that, and the vastly differing treatment by mainstream media of assorted anti-Semitic acts, depending on the sociopolitical nature of who committed them, saddens and angers me, as a Christian who worships a Jew born a bit over 2,000 years ago.

Now we’re supposed to believe that an Islamist terrorist, demanding the release of another from prison, and who went deliberately and specifically into a synagogue having service on the Jewish sabbath (and not any one of thousands of Christian churches or dozens of mosques in the Metroplex), “was not specifically related to the Jewish community” as stated with unjustifiable certitude by FBI special agent Matthew DeSarno.

Say what? How stupid does he think we are? Before the dead terrorist’s body was fully cooled, he somehow had telepathic insight into the brain of Malik Faisal Akram? If he did, I suspect he would have said quite the opposite. [In fact, since then, the FBI director stared at the obvious, “In the last phone call he made to his family, Malik Akram spewed venom against Jews, cursing Jews and America,” and now is singing the right tune.] That the FBI appeared caught off-guard by this, or at a minimum, shamefully clueless and denialist at first, ought to raise alarms in us all, all across this land.

None of this should be happening in America, which has the world’s largest (Israel-eligible) Jewish population…yes, more even than Israel itself. Be the attackers white Neo-Nazis, so-called Black Hebrew Israelites, Islamic terrorists, street gangs of any ethnicity, or anybody else in particular, the actions are just as sinful and heinous.

I can’t stop the crimes, but as a small token of my solidarity with my Jewish friends in these crazy times, I replace one blue star with another for awhile, and symbology aside, will call out the evil for what it is.

Here’s an essay on these topics by Jewish writer Bari Weiss that is well worth reading. What the corporate, coastal big-city media have omitted and downplayed is at least as important as what the same media have stated on these events.

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