The Opposite of Transparency

If the last few months of American politics and national security news have done anything, it’s proving that secrets rarely are. We live in a time when people debate, openly and in a completely non-absurdist way, whether or not information wants to be free. I say that information doesn’t want anything. People want power and in today’s world, information is power. Releasing withheld information is a play to shift power as much as withholding information is a play to maintain power.

The super-smart security expert Bruce Schneier believes that secrets are getting harder and harder to keep these days:

[I]t is possible to build a career in the classified world of government contracting, but there are no guarantees. Younger people grew up knowing this: there are no employment guarantees anywhere. They see it in their friends. They see it all around them.

Many will also believe in openness, especially the hacker types the NSA needs to recruit. They believe that information wants to be free, and that security comes from public knowledge and debate.

We live in a world where information is currency, but it is a currency that has a shelf-life measured in minutes. The five seconds it takes to tweet a piece of previously-secret information is all it takes for it to be completely worthless. Everyone has access to it now due to viral messaging. But that wasn’t always the case. Secrets-holders used to be able to put the genie back in the bottle. Through delaying, denying and denigrating, the powerful could make those scoops go away. Could wait it out until the media became interested in something else.

Today though? Just ask Anthony Weiner about putting the genie back in the bottle. Once information is released, it is released. Full stop.

The problem with this, and the reason for today’s post is because some crisis communications folks still think that they can unring bells. That they can delay, deny and denigrate until the story has blown over. Today we’re talking about our friends at Star Alliance, and this picture:

thai airlines

It’s an image taken after a Thai Airlines jet had a problem landing at an airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Things went wrong, as they sometimes do, and 14 people ended up in the hospital. No big deal, right? Now look at the jet, and try to find the Thai Airlines logo. If you look at the jet in the air behind it, you’ll see the logo, up front, above the windows. But not on our crashed jet. According to a spokesperson:

Thai Airways official Smud Poom-On said that “blurring the logo” after an accident was a recommendation from Star Alliance known as the “crisis communication rule,” meant to protect the image of both the airline and other members of Star Alliance.

And this is what I mean by secrets aren’t for very long. All it took was one person to see the absurdity of the situation and snap a picture of a similarly-colored and painted jet in the background to demonstrate how useless an effort covering up the logo of the airlines was.

That was supposed to be the end of the story, but writing this made me think about if I’d seen this before. I never had (some crisis communication rule, eh?), even in plane crashes of other Star Alliance airlines, like United or US Air or, I don’t know, Asiana Airlines (and their very recognizable and definitely not painted over logo). Why the difference in tactics?

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