Monday, June 6, 2016

Extraterrestrial Contact: Responding to Social Media Demands

It’s tough to keep anything secret these days. There are so many outlets for information that news tends to be instantaneous. That’s a big change from 1989 when the International Academy of Astronautics put together a set of protocols for the detection of a signal from an extraterrestrial civilization

Cathal O’Connell writes in Cosmos about a proposal to update those protocols. University of St. Andrews researchers Duncan Fargan and Alexander Scholz suggest a speedier process for public dissemination of news of an alien signal discovery. This is a big difference from the current protocol, which calls for researchers working together behind the scenes, to confirm that the signal is indeed of intelligent origin before taking it public. The reason for the suggested change is simple: it is likely someone in that chain of researchers would put it up on Twitter or Facebook before it could be confirmed. The authors point out in their Acta Astronautica article that the social media revelations could contain incorrect information or be misinterpreted. It would be better to have an open release to the public of preliminary information. Research to confirm the discovery can follow.
Communication has changed significantly. It is critical for researchers to consider those changes when it comes to announcing a possible extraterrestrial signal or contact. I think this article points to a larger issue. Transparency would be essential in any first contact scenario. It’s important that correct information be available to the public as soon as possible, so that speculation and rumors can’t overtake the facts.

The article brings up another interesting aspect of our age: the dangers associated with revelation of extraterrestrials contact. O’Connell writes that Fargan and Scholz suggest hazards for those making such an announcement. The researchers could be subject to Internet based intrusions and attacks.
Keeping up with the Internet and social media won’t be easy. Speculation and rumors would likely fly no matter how much researchers work to put out correct information. It’s critical to take into account the possible reaction to news of First Contact now. When it happens there will barely be time to think before the news has reached the entire world.

No comments: