Last weekend, ISIS terrorists carried out a series of heinous attacks in several locations around Paris, killing over 100 people and hospitalizing so many more.
And as the weekend drew on, various media outlets began speculating as to how, in this age of surveillance, an attack of this magnitude could have been carried out in the very center of Europe.
The outlets, reporters, and other luminaries of rational thought tussled with new information relating to the co-ordination of the attacks and how they could have been planned. Together they all came down on one unlikely source, and it's more than likely gathering dust in your living room.
PS4 - Tool of Terrorists?
Three days before the terrorist attacks, Belgium's deputy prime minister and minister of Security and Home Affairs Jan Jambon discussed, at an event organized by Politico, Belgium's security weaknesses and the difficulty of monitoring peoples' activities on the best selling console, positing the idea that it is "even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp."
The deputy PM is referring to the PS4's party chat feature which allows users to converse, send messages and share snapshots of gameplay with each other. All contact is encrypted and is, as Jambon states, "very, very difficult for our services—not only Belgian services but international services—to decrypt."
Jambon's main issue is that Belgium sits highest on the ranking of people leaving an EU nation to join up with Sunni militant organizations in Syria and Iraq. He revealed that, to date, 400 Belgians have reportedly left the country to join ISIS, amidst the terror organization's ever growing online recruitment drive.
But despite that startling accusation coming days before the attacks were carried out, some media outlets would latch onto the story and misguidedly implicate the PS4 and PSN in terrorist activity, due to false rumors of one being found during a raid on a hideout in Paris.
The chorus of discontent was led, surprisingly, by Forbes, who, with their provocatively titled article “How Paris ISIS Terrorists May Have Used PlayStation 4 To Discuss And Plan Attacks,” created a waterfall effect of scaremongering from some of the west's most read outlets.
"I Say I Am Stronger Than Fear"
The Forbes article, which currently stands at over 600k reads, suggests that, thanks to consoles, terrorists could "spell out an attack plan in Super Mario Maker’s coins and share it privately with a friend, or two Call of Duty players could write messages to each other on a wall in a disappearing spray of bullets."
Can you imagine that? A benevolent terrorist, wild eyed and sweat addled at the brow, arched over a Wii U game pad, which isn't a PS4 peripheral by the way, and hurriedly etching out plans to brutally attack a city in cutesy coins? That makes total sense.
Forbes went on discussing its theories:
The hunt for those responsible (eight terrorists were killed Saturday night, but accomplices may still be at large) led to a number of raids in nearby Brussels. Evidence reportedly turned up included at least one PlayStation 4 console.
Belgian federal home affairs minister Jan Jambon said outright that the PS4 is used by ISIS agents to communicate, and was selected due to the fact that it’s notoriously hard to monitor. “PlayStation 4 is even more difficult to keep track of than WhatsApp,” he said.
As was previously mentioned in this article, Jambon made those comments three days prior to the terrible event, meaning his comments were in no way linked to the attacks that would follow. Forbes would then go on to quickly amend its statement, due to there being a significant lack of evidence of a PlayStation 4 being present in the aftermath of the raid.
International Business Times added their voice into the chorus with some wildly un-researched claims:
A member of the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, could convey an attack plan in Super Mario Maker's coins and share it privately with another PS4 user. A player in Call Of Duty could shoot at a wall and write a disappearing message in bullets to another player, Forbes reported.
While it remains unclear whether the militants from Friday's attacks actually used PS4, the popular gaming console has proven to be an effective avenue of covert communication for both the good guys and bad guys.
When did Nintendo release Mario Maker on the PS4? I must have totally missed that one. And what do they mean by "an effective avenue of covert communication for both the good and bad guys?" If it's unclear as to whether the PS4 was used maliciously, were they referring to a session on the cops and robbers simulator Battlefield: Hardline?
Funnily enough, IBT's article was also quickly amended after its glaring issues were picked apart by readers in the comment thread.
The Power of Fear
Here's a round up of some of the other more erroneous headlines from the US and UK:
The Mail Online
In the end Sony did take the time to respond to the claims. In conversation with Eurogamer, a Sony spokesperson discussed how PS4's party chat isn't dissimilar to many modern devices' chat features:
PlayStation 4 allows for communication amongst friends and fellow gamers and, in common with all modern connected devices, this has the potential to be abused.
However, we take our responsibilities to protect our users extremely seriously and we urge our users and partners to report activities that may be offensive, suspicious or illegal.
When we identify or are notified of such conduct, we are committed to taking appropriate actions in conjunction with the appropriate authorities and will continue to do so.
Though the PS4's encrypted P2P networking system could be abused, there are an abundance of other encrypted devices and apps terrorist organizations could use to co-ordinate their horrible acts.
In the wake of such immeasurable tragedy, it saddens me that a few of the west's most treasured media outlets would run with an incorrect story that is packed to the brim with fear and empty blame.
Instead of honoring the lives of those we lost on that fateful Friday, they were insistent on running falsities based on a misquoted article, based on a rumor that was later debunked.
As if there isn't enough to be weary of in the world, now we're being coerced into fearing a glorified toy.
(Sources: Eurogamer, Politico, Forbes)