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The current political climate in the world is having a dangerous effect on everyone. Several days ago, the state of Hawaii thought it was under attack from an impending missile strike. A message went out to cellphones stating: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The alert, which was also sent to television and radio stations, had citizens and tourists racing frantically to find cover. Many texted, tweeted, phoned, and status updated their final farewells to family and friends. Local media crews captured images of parents forcing their children into sewers in a desperate attempt to save them.
Humanity + Technology = False Alarms (And Worse)
It turned out the missile warning was false—accidentally triggered by a veteran employee who simply clicked on the wrong prompt of a drop down menu. However, that mistake shook Hawaiians to their core. To make matter worse, it took nearly 40 minutes for officials to realize the mistake and allay the public’s fears.
Several days later, a similar incident occurred in Japan. This time, the warning was issued solely via an app. NHK, the country’s national broadcaster, sent an alert to all NHK app users urging them to take cover. The message, which was part of the government’s J-Alert system, appeared on phones saying: “NHK news alert. North Korea likely to have launched missile.” People were urged to find shelter underground.
According to investigators, this mistake was blamed on a “switching error” and was corrected within five minutes. Good news for everyone. However, the fact that two false alarms like this occurred in a short amount of time is beyond disturbing.
Why This Is Happening
Technology is a godsend—but it’s also a curse at times. Any great invention can become a horrible tool in the hands of those who misuse it (intentionally or not). Social media has made it possible for people—especially those in power—to act and react brashly and irrationally. These actions stoke fiery emotions in everyone and anyone. The immediacy of social media is a breeding ground for hostility, fear mongering, and accidents. It beckons those who have something to say to say it right now. And they often do.
Because of the way certain individuals in power are carrying themselves online and off, the specter of a violent attack is very real. People are no longer questioning the possibility of war. They are expecting it. And any message accidentally warning about it can and will cause widespread panic.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Another frightening aspect of these two incidents is how the world may get used to them. The more these false alarms happen, the less inclined people will be to believe them. That’s why it’s important we get a better grasp on the technology. Just as integral (yet less likely) is that we teach those in power how dangerous irrational behavior can be. That words hurt—and not just those who they’re directed towards, but also everyone around them.