On Friday, the U.S. Army used the word “chink” to describe intelligence community vulnerability to terrorist use of social media communication. Twitter exploded with cries of race baiting. The Army deleted the tweet.
chink: (1) a small cleft, slit, or fissure <a chink in the fence>; (2) a weak spot that may leave one vulnerable <his lawyers found a chink in the law>; (3) a narrow beam of light shining through a chink
First Known Use: 1535
When I saw the latest social media tempest, I first thought that the Army had used the word “chink” in a tweet that referred to Asian-American soldiers.
I would never have dreamed that the tweet referred to issues around social media.
— Chanin Nuntavong (@authoriTHAI) January 29, 2015
Let me clear: using chink as a pejorative for people of Asian heritage is wrong.
But “chinks … in armor pose challenges”? The word is not being used as shorthand for Asian-Americans!
— Shannon West (@PNWShan) January 31, 2015
The real story in contained in the news release has been obscured.
Our intelligence community is afraid of digital communication networks.
Terrorists are using social media to plan events, recruit, share information, propaganda, and so on. “We can detect [their activities] pretty well, but I’m not sure we know what to do about it,” said a terrorism expert…
Klon Kitchen, special advisor for cyberterrorism and social media at the National Counterterrorism Center, said he sees “the rapid and seemingly unending advancement of technology” and social media as being one of the biggest threats.
The proliferation of social media and technology will impact “every future special operations mission,” he said, “whether it be direct action, combating terrorism, information operations, civil affairs or any other SOF [Special Operations Forces] mission. The threat would come from terrorists exploiting social media for their own nefarious causes.”
Substitute the word “criminal” for “terrorist” and you’ll see an ages-old government lament about new communication technologies and keeping secrets.
Let “terrorist” stand and you’ll get a glimpse at the justification for widespread telephone wiretaps.
The person who wrote the tweet used an awful metaphor (what “armor” is social media communication penetrating?).
The first world has real problems: income and wealth inequality, #blackLivesMatter, food deserts, obesity … and our own government spying on us. Because it’s afraid terrorists might be talking on digital channels.
Outrage at use of a word that’s 600 years old, in the context of its original meaning, is a distraction from the very real problem to our privacy that the Army’s news release illuminates.
Sure, get mad. But get mad at the real problem.