Guest commentary: What a tangled worldwide web we weave

When we constructed the interstate system, we simply bypassed much of our country’s intricate variety.

In spite of losing this national character, there are those who get their kicks motoring the monotonous I-ways of America. They find a comfortable routine in the coast-to-coast, border-to-border ennui of signs for toll collection, motels, chain restaurants and gas stations.

And some blotches of local personality do remain, concealed in this national humdrum. For instance, one of the oddball pleasures of driving along I-95 tempts the motorist at Havre de Grace, Maryland.

At exit 89, to be precise, is a billboard for the Decoy Capital of the World. That’s right, there’s an actual museum for duck hunting decoys.

Duck hunting is not my thing, but my mind has wandered as I’ve coped with the interstate boredom at exit 89, to the point of wondering whether there is actually a decoy museum, or if there’s nothing but a sign, a decoy fake, a year-round April Fool’s joke.

Such is the state of the demented mind badly in need of a rest stop. (Though not to worry, if you can hold it for a few minutes, there’s one nearby.)

I’ve had similar tortured fantasies as I’ve meandered along the information highways in more modern times — the internet.

I embrace a fundamental law of cyber-life: “Never believe anything you see on the internet.” That applies to social media postings that have no constraints on misinformation, along with the commercial advertising that rocks to a deceptive algorithmic tempo all its own, whispering, “You’re being duped.”

E-mails are even more underhanded. How many thousand of them have you gotten, pretending to be from royalty and claiming that you personally have received a large inheritance? All you have to do, they explain, is send a few hundred — or maybe a few thousand — to get it.

Communication has been so corrupted that you can’t even trust the calls you receive from Social Security or the IRS, warning you that you’re about to be arrested unless you send gift certificates to the authorities.

My favorite e-mails are the ones making some fictitious claim. Then you receive another e-mail, on official looking letterhead, warning you that the original was a fraud. Except that it’s a fraud too, with a link to share personal information or some other cybermarker with a certain secret Russian or Baltic hacker or phisherman lurking out there.

But the anti-social media are the absolute worst. Tucked among the cute doggy pictures and videos of daddy and mommy coming home from a dangerous military outpost are the advocacy lie mongers, the troll farmers, the purveyors of “alternative facts.”

If it’s too scandalous to be true, it is. Actually, it’s the contemporary version of something that’s been around for much of history. It’s the smear campaign, the political lie, all gussied up in the latest version of the technological pandemic.

Unlike the coronavirus, where there seems to be a cure in reach, the main impediments are only the humans with distorted political thinking and no common sense whatsoever. They don’t even wear a simple mask until the deadly threat subsides.

But there is no end in sight for the cyber scourge, no light at the end of the tunnel, just more tunnels hiding whatever dark money for mischief it can buy from political hucksters.

Wherever our infrastructure can take us, the principles of leadership are hidden in the folds of a worldwide web that is impenetrable — particularly the sections that the politicians have reserved for themselves.

Unlike any repairs involving concrete, the technological repairs always wear through. Con artists are making increasingly complex but effective decoys, and they seem to be fooling just about everybody.

Bob Franken is an award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.


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