Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Error in information retrieval

When you ask Siri – the automated personal assistant programmed into the new iPhone 4S – where you can dump a body, Siri will list assorted dumps and swamps. In fact, Siri will tell you where to find an escort when you’re lonely, sardonically answer your knock-knock jokes, and quote Monty Python and Douglas Adams when asked about the meaning of life. The one thing Siri will not tell you is where to get an abortion.

Courtesy of iPhone Providers

Well, actually, it seems that in Massachusetts, Siri can hook you up with a nearby abortion clinic, no problem. But in Washington, D.C., Siri will offer up a pro-life Crisis Pregnancy Center instead of the local Planned Parenthood. And in New York City, Siri comes up empty.

Now, this oversight does not necessarily mean there is an evil Apple executive somewhere, rubbing his hands together and cackling “Haha! Now no one will find the abortion clinics and we will have total control over women’s bodies! Just what we’ve always wanted!”

One of the creators of Siri (before Apple bought it), Norman Winarsky, speculated these results were based not on censorship but on whatever web services Siri is using to find answers. Apple just didn’t care to check what those web services might be omitting. I find it hard to believe that nobody at Apple had any clue this loophole existed, but it was probably a glitch they didn’t find important enough to fix. And a bunch of men ignoring the importance of abortion rights is not particularly shocking at all.

In other suspicious censorship news, screen caps comparing Time Magazine covers from the U.S. and around the world have been floating around the Internet. The U.S. edition of the Dec. 5 issue features the cover story “Why Anxiety is Good For You,” with a full page picture of a little cartoon man with a red yarn heart. Editions from Europe, Asia and the South Pacific have the lead story “Revolution Redux,” with an Egyptian protestor wearing a gas mask and throwing their fist into the air. The story about anxiety has been confined to a small white font in the upper left hand corner.

Looking back through past issues reveals that the U.S. often runs a different cover from Europe, Asia and the South Pacific. Sometimes it’s because the U.S. cover is specific to America. Sometimes it looks like the rest of the world is being censored, like the Oct. 31 issue, where the U.S. gets a cover story about economic growth in China, and the rest of the world features a story about the Tin Tin movie.

But there are some glaring discrepancies that make the conspiracy nut inside me dance and froth at the mouth. On Oct. 24, the U.S. lead story is “The Return of the Silent Majority.” It’s still an important story and not fluff like the anxiety one. But the three other covers read “Why the U.S. Will Never Save Afghanistan.” The Aug. 8 issue of the U.S. edition presents a delightfully sexist interpretation of household work with the headline “Chore Wars.” The three other editions feature a man leading a camel across the desert under the headline “Travels Through Islam.” I think somebody at Time thinks Americans just don’t care about Egypt, because back on April 18, the U.S. got a picture of Lincoln crying next to “Why We’re Still Fighting the Civil War” versus everybody else’s “Egypt’s Unfinished Revolution.”

Again, chances are there’s nobody presiding over Time Magazine, rubbing their hands together and cackling at their evil plan to brainwash Americans. Really, this is probably about sales. Even though it missed the cover, Time printed the story about “Why the U.S. Will Never Save Afghanistan” in the silent majority issue. They just figured Americans didn’t want to pick up yet another story about our failing military activities. They’re probably right. It doesn’t change the fact that it sends a message about what our priorities should be. It ignores that media very much shapes our opinions about what is important. If I glance at a magazine cover about the Egyptian revolution, I’m going to think, however briefly, about Egyptian revolution. Instead I’m thinking, “Time, you silly magazine. My anxiety is going to give me a heart attack.”

These two examples don’t prove there is a grand conspiracy to brainwash Americans, or even keep us from critical knowledge. What it does highlight is that we must focus more on how we receive information today, and where that information comes from. Almost all my current events knowledge on a daily basis comes from Google. I pick up news stories and reactions to events on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. What I too often forget is that these are all companies with financial motivations. I have no reason to simply hand over my trust to them with a big pink bow.

Not too long ago, Internet rumors flew about Twitter preventing the Occupy Wall Street tag from trending. Twitter swears this was not true, but honestly, what’s stopping them? The goodness of their hearts? Like it or not, what may have started up as a bunch of computer nerds fooling around has turned into a massive corporation, with massive corporation interests and massive corporation needs. That goes for all our social networking sites. We automatically assume what we read is fact and what we write will be heard. We should not be so hasty.

I can see you there, beginning to squint skeptically, suspecting I may indeed believe in my mythical villain CEO. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure no one is out to get me. The point to this is not to be overly paranoid, or overly skeptical of those who are overly paranoid. There are a lot of reasons censorship happens, and those reasons have a wide variety of intentions. There are some cruel people out there in power, to be sure. But a lot of censorship happens because otherwise good people aren’t thinking about their influence, or are thinking too much about their money.

Moving forward, it is critical that we keep a watchful eye on how we receive our information. We must hold the media, Google, Apple and all social networking companies accountable for presenting the truth (or as close as they can get). They must be held responsible for their censorship, even if they didn’t mean it. We are living in a communication revolution. But if we don’t pay attention, we’ll end up silenced.

Victoria Knobloch is a Collegian columnist. She can be reached at [email protected].

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