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Keeping Things Logical: An Update on Continuing Media Coverage of the NSA Scandals


Post Date: August 27, 2013
By: Casey Hampsey

In logical reasoning, there is a fallacy known as false analogy.  This fallacy involves forcing a comparison between two things based on a property they share, and asserting that they must therefore share other properties.  For example, if I know that both apples and oranges grow on trees and are nutritious, and I then find out that oranges are citrus fruits, I might conclude that apples are also citrus fruits.  After all, they shared properties A and B (tree-growing and nutrition), so if one also possesses property C (being a citrus fruit), then so should the other, right?

The fallacy here should be obvious: sharing properties A and B does not necessarily mean that a property C will also be shared.  This is a logical error that is easier to make when one is dealing with more intangible substances than fruit—for instance, it seems to be one that the media continually makes with regards to the NSA’s government surveillance and the collection of data by marketers and businesspeople for legitimate uses.  After all, both involve using avenues of communication and storing personal information!

That’s why we were very glad to see that, after last week’s further revelations that the NSA had unlawfully collected thousands of domestic emails, the news media generally has not linked this government surveillance activity to the legitimate practices of data-driven marketers.  Most publications are rightfully centering the conversation on constitutionality, executive power, and other political issues which are genuinely connected to the NSA’s activities, rather than attempting to drag the discussion over into territories where it doesn’t belong.   Unfortunately, we haven’t seen this consistently from all officials and journalists: instead, we’ve seen the use of scare-tactic language in policy, the inaccurate targeting of reputable practices, and a lack of education on marketing data privacy among legislators.

DMA has been working hard to make it clear to the media that issues around government surveillance are NOT related to consumer data-use by marketers for marketing purposes.  We are very glad to see the media getting it right this time.  We are encouraged by this, and will continue our work in setting the record straight – AND we will keep you updated on the tone of conversation in the media around these sensitive topics.

Thank you for tuning in, and don’t let logical fallacies trip you up in conversations on serious issues!

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