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X-Infographic Analysis, Part 1

February 9, 2012

This is the infographic that Group 3 has chosen to analyze first. I will be doing the bottom portion (the red part which mainly deals with government surveillance).

Big Brother. The Man. The State. Do they have your best interests at heart? Or do they like to watch you take a pee? Some people don’t care, some people wear tinfoil hats to bed. It is doubtless, however, that as world governments have greater and greater access to advanced technology, that the potential for using it in disturbing ways will grow. The currently uncertain security situation of many parts of the world, particularly asymmetrical threats from terrorist organizations, certainly doesn’t help matters. In the US, we have already seen institutions like The Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay circumvent civil liberties long-held to be fundamental human rights. As I mentioned before in this blog, Chinese government intervention drastically changes the Internet experience for its citizens.

But let me back-track a little bit. Before we get into the heavy stuff, I’d like to analyze the aesthetics of the infographic. Well, it looks nice. That sounds rather elementary, but the fact that it caught our eye is a big reason why we selected it in the first place. It is clearly geared towards attention-grabbing, and I think it catches the eye in all the right places to provide the proper amount of shock value (that is, if you are easily shocked or disturbed by things you see on the Internet). The last part, known in our group as Part 5, turns extremely dire, the rather neutral tan color being replaced with a dark blood red. Clearly the creators of this did not intend it to end on a positive note. Is that why I chose to analyze it? Sort of.

What bothers me about infographics like these is that it makes a plethora of unsubstantiated claims, including quotes, without providing a single source anywhere. The cynical part of me thinks this is because whoever made it wanted it to be distributed among, let’s say, simple people who would not balk at an unsubstantiated claim. You know, the same people who forward chain letters saying McDonald’s is charging black people more money, or Coca-Cola was part owned by Osama bin Laden, without batting an eyelash. Probably the same sort of (likely middle-aged or elderly)people who do nothing except sit in their living room and watch sensationalist TV news, their perception of the world warped to one that is rapidly disintegrating around them, without actually going out and interacting with people, but I digress.

Not only are sources not cited, the nature of the text presented might make it difficult to discover from where they came, but I will now attempt to do a little light research (read: Google and Wikipedia) to see what I can find.

Claim 1: “About 200,000,000 US citizens have had their call records monitored since 2001”.

This is rather startling. As of the most recent census, this is about 64% of Americans. Typing this quote into Google, the first result was this USA Today article. To briefly summarize, the key word in this claim is “records”. I don’t want to speak for you, but if you only glanced at it, you probably pictured a civil servant with a Top Secret clearance chain smoking in a dark room listening to you tell your boyfriend or girlfriend “No, you hang up……NO, YOU HANG UP….you first….ok…let’s hang up on 3….” and contemplating if he was satisfied with the direction his life was heading. But actually, the NSA’s surveillance program only analyzed to whom you were making calls, in order to search for patterns consistent with suspicious behavior.

Apparently, people involved with the program leaked this information to the press. But can we believe them? Are they disgruntled? Is it impossible that it’s not a strategic lie by the NSA? It could be taken as a show of good faith of sorts. As if to say, “people will believe and probably accept that that we do this. But if they knew the truth, they would lose their minds. So let’s just give them this story, and people will curse us under their breath and then forget about it.” Maybe I’ve read too many spy novels, but I’m not inclined to buy this whole story…

Personally, the only thing I’m willing to accept about an agency that is “top secret” is that I know nothing about it. And I’m not inclined to believe that the little guy can really do anything about it. Governments have their secrets, and I suppose the right to know those secrets was waived when humans ceded power to governments. But I digress.

The other claim of this portion of the graphic, namely: “Since Sept 11, 2011, the National Security Agency (NSA) of America has been collecting detailed call history and conversations from the nation’s three largest phone companies in the hopes of building what it calls ‘the largest database ever assembled in the world’.”

… is just an expansion of the previous claim I just got finished talking about, so it seems like they  needed some filler. If I were them, I would have included information from the last part of the article regarding the phone companies’ responsee to this policy. Apparently, Qwest fought very vigorously against it. But I guess that sort of hopeful news doesn’t really help the goal of this infographic. In that case, I would have used this quote by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, when asked if he thought the White House had the authority to monitor domestic communications without a warrant: “I wouldn’t rule it out”.

The next bogeyman presented by the graphic is this: “President Obama has backed a policy which would lead to a national database of of DNA kept on file of all people arrested, even if they are not convicted of a crime.”

Well, check it out. That’s also true.

I can’t even say there are any distortions taking place here, because that’s actually quite a succinct summary of the article I just posted.

Even though the infographic turned out to be right about what it said, it still makes me uneasy they throw around these types of words without evidence. Then again, I suppose a responsible, free-thinking citizen should look them up. I just wonder how many people like that are left.


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  1. Infographic link doesn’t seem to be working. I’m on an iPad though so it could be an issue on my side.

    Most graphics do put sources at the bottom, at least the good ones. And personally I don’t think Obama’s too had for supporting such a measure. Goes a little bit far for me, but I could see the worth.

  2. The link was broken, thanks so much for pointing that out.

    I don’t think it’s inherently terrible either, but I do think it tramples on states’ rights a little bit.

  3. How many reasonable free-thinking people are left? That’s a good question you close with. I often wonder the same myself.

    If I read you correctly, you seem to be saying that the infographic is presenting selected facts and suggesting an alarming conclusion which might not be warranted by the very facts presented. I think that is one of the problematic aspects of these types of documents. There is a tendency to oversimplify an issue and perhaps manipulate opinion.

    The paragraph you were developing about governments gaining the right to keep secrets the moment the people ceded power to the governments really grabbed my attention. You noted that you were digressing and got back to your original line. I sort of wish you had developed this idea more fully. I think you are on to something here.

    If you have time and interest, I think it would be nice to chop the portion of the infographic you analyzed and include it as in image for your post. It’s your call on that.

    I also noticed a dead link at the bottom. The one about President Obama and the DNA database doesn’t go anywhere.

  4. I find the portion of this infographic that I analyzed to be mostly accurate, even though alarmist in nature. That being said I’m more or less on the same page with you about the tendencies of infographics.

    The reason I didn’t want to delve into topics regarding the nature of government isn’t because I have a strong devotion to remaining on topic; it’s because I really don’t want political science flame wars on my blog, sorry. I really don’t enjoy discussing politics in public forums except under very specific circumstances.

    I fixed the (second) broken link, thanks again and sorry for my oversight.

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