Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web
Important news! Hot! Significant! Just off the presses, posted at hundreds of sites on the Internet…
“Connecting The Many Undersea Cut Cable Dots“, by Richard Sauder, NPC Intelligence Associates (4 February 2008).
The last week has seen a spate of unexplained, cut, undersea communications cables that has severely disrupted communications in many countries in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. As I shall show, the total numbers of cut cables remain in question, but likely number as many as eight, and maybe nine or more.
They continue with some alarming and wildly speculative theories about this act of techno-terrorism. Who did and why? Established news media and bloggers have also reported these puzzling events.
“Conspiracy theorists ponder ongoing web outage“, The Times (6 February 2008): “Three undersea cables carrying vital web traffic were cut within four days last week, and no one yet knows why.”
“Four cable ‘cuts’ in a week: Conspiracy nuts light up the phones“, Richard Koman, ZDnet (6 February 2008)
Fortunately there is usually at least one voice of reason amidst the cacophony of the web (from whom I borrowed this title). Perhaps nothing out of the ordinary has happened. Note that Mr. Singel actually consulted a relevant expert.
“Cable Cut Fever Grips the Web“, Ryan Singel, Wired Blog Network (6 February 2008)
Stefan Beckert of TeleGeography Research says it’s all a bit much. “I’m much more worried about terrorists blowing up people than cables,” Beckert said. “If you cut a cable, all you are doing is inconveniencing a lot of people.”
Only the first two cuts had any serious impact on the internet, says Beckert. Those cables near Alexandria, Egypt account for 76 percent of the capacity through the Suez canal — connecting Europe with the Middle East, North Africa and the India sub-continent.
Once those failures sensitized a conspiracy-happy net, it was natural that other cable failures would be found to feed the frenzy, because they occur all the time.
“Cable cuts happen on average once every three days,” Beckert said. There are 25 large ships that do nothing but fix cable cuts and bends, Beckert adds. While any severed cable is a “cut” in the parlance of telecom, most often they’re the result of cables rubbing against sea floor rocks, eventually cutting through the copper shielding and exposing the thin fiber optics inside.
Normally, netizens have no idea when there are cable cuts since large providers instantly re-route communications through other cables. “These outages don’t usually affect end users,” Beckert said. “For example, Verizon doesn’t just have one link across the Atlantic, they have seven, eight or nine they can route capacity on.”
Only time will tell what actually happened. However, this illustrates an important point:
The Internet can make us collectively smarter and faster-reacting. It can just as easily make us dumber.
The increasingly large “net” of events captured by the global news media requires a harsh filter to separate the signal from the noise. Unless we mentally adapt, over time we will increasingly be overloaded and unable to see the valuable nuggets of gold amidst the dirt.
Worse, noise can confirm our preconceptions. This is the cognitive error know as “confirmation bias.” We grab data that confirms our beliefs — even if spurious or noise — and filter out that which contradicts our beliefs. In this way even we can impose a pattern even on noise — a random stream of everyday events.
This is even more clearly seen on single-issue web sites, like The Oil Drum or those of warbloggers. They act as data miners. Every day they find a dozen random events that fit their beliefs, which get posted. Those that contradict their biases are discarded. It is a positive feedback cycle with unpleasant results on one’s connection to reality.
For more on this see Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
Other posts about the Internet: does it make us smarter or dumber?
- Will Israel commit suicide? More rumors of a strike at Iran. (22 December 2007)
- Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant (6 February 2008)
- Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web (7 February 2008)
- Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned (8 February 2008)
- What do blogs do for America? (26 February)
- The oddity of reports about the Iraq War (13 March 2008)
- Will we bomb Iran, now that Admiral Fallon is gone? (17 March 2008)
- More post-Fallon overheating: “6 signs the US may be headed for war in Iran” (18 March 2008)
- Euphoria about the Bakken Formation (10 April 2008)
- The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study (15 April 2008)