Friday, August 30, 2013

1219 Al and NBC, Adolf and Facebook

1219 Al and NBC, Adolf and Facebook

This happened in the early 1990s, soon after Al Gore invented the internet.  

At NBC one early morning we were trying to do a brief story having something to do with underworld activity in Chicago.  We thought a small snippet about Chicago’s all time best known gangster, Al Capone would help viewers with perspective.

Since the newsroom library was limited to things like the 1955 edition of the pronunciation guide and the structure of the US government in 1780, we turned to a search engine, probably Alta Vista (remember them?) and typed in “Al Capone.”

What we got back was a page that said something like “the site you are searching for has been blocked because it may contain information on how to commit a crime.”

Apparently management thought such instructions should be viewed only by employees whose job it was to contemplate and/or implement crimes.

We killed the story.  No big deal.  It wasn’t much to begin with and without Al, it was almost nothing.

This all comes up now so you can see that spying on internet stuff is nothing new, the corporations and government agencies have been at it since the early days.

Fast forward to 2013.  The New York Times does a story about an Italian vintner who is making wines with pictures of Adolf Hitler on the label.
Perish forbid any of Adolf’s pals should forget what he looked like.

The Times, to its credit, made the winemaker look insensitive and foolish.

But several attempts to “share” the item on Facebook were futile.  The post went up. Half an hour later someone took it down.

Okay, let’s give it another try.  Maybe the poster clicked the wrong thing.

Presto, the wine post returns.  And presto, about half an hour later, it comes down again.

And this time, no explanation.  Obviously Facebook’s computer thought someone was recruiting followers for the Fourth Reich, even though the article was critical.

The third try was a little different. Here it is:

I have tried for two days to repost an article from the NYTimes about wines celebrating the life of and showing the picture of a particular figure from a country east of here and with which we were once at war. It has been taken down twice. It's headline "From Italy, a vintage redolent of horrors." Look it up if interested. It was published on August 25th and appears on page 8 of the New York edition of August 26. I think it's worth reading.

Chances are a lot of people who saw it missed what it was about.  It sent others running to online dictionaries to look up the meaning of “redolent.”

So Facebook must have some kind of a program that hunts and shoots certain keywords or key phrases.

Not necessarily a NSA-level spy job.  But a spy job nonetheless. Some computers have too many terabytes on their hands.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to

© WJR 2013

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