Not Quite Fake and Not Quite True

The original headline on this story was “Russian hackers penetrated U.S. electricity grid through a utility in Vermont, U.S. officials say.” There is a problem with that headline. It simply is not true.

The Washington Post, having been called out for the headline as “fake news,” changed the headline to “Russian operation hacked a Vermont utility, showing risk to U.S. electrical grid security, officials say.” That is more accurate. The crux of the story, buried in the fourth paragraph, is this

Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.

The laptop, not connected to the grid system, could not have caused the Russian hackers to penetrate the electricity grid. As all sides rush to point out fake news, and the media gets more and more in the habit of clickbait headlines to drive traffic, this is going to become a bigger and bigger problem.

If it is not abundantly obvious by now, most people read headlines and not the story. We’ve run several experiments here at The Resurgent to show that. People come away with conclusions based on headlines and often, even after the truth is revealed in the text of the story, they double down. One of the funniest examples was my piece entitled “Reconsidering My Opposition to Donald Trump.”

I wrote that I did reconsider it based on people asking me to, but had come to the same conclusion. The number of people, to this day, who are convinced that I abandoned my opposition to Trump and voted for him is crazy.

The Washington Post should know better. But we also shouldn’t ignore the story because of the headline Russian hackers hacked into a laptop at Burlington Electric and thankfully it was not connected to the power grid. But that’s not to say it won’t happen again with worse results.

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Erick Erickson

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