If you have purchased a new television in the past few years, you are aware that the devices are now built to be connected to the internet. This is in part a function of utility; people want to be able to easily stream Netflix and so on. It’s also helpful for the television manufacturers, who can both update the systems remotely and drop some ads into the mix on occasion.

For a certain segment of the population, this is a weird development. Many Americans older than, say, 48, grew up with a big hunk of a television in their houses that for decades was connected only to a power outlet and to the airwaves. Now, televisions are low-powered computers with oversize screens.

One effect of that is that televisions now join a lengthy list of Technology Products That Sometimes Manifest Weird Things, from which is drawn the shorter list of Technology Products Non-Credibly Identified as Espionage Vectors.

Which brings us to Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

Over the weekend, the verbose legislator warned her Twitter followers that Something Was Afoot.

“Last night in my DC residence, the television turned on by itself and the screen showed someone’s laptop trying to connect to the TV,” she claimed. A bit later, she added that she didn’t have anything to hide — you know, in case The Spies were doing hacking. “I just love my country and the people,” she said, “and know how much they’ve been screwed over by the corrupt people in our government and I’m not willing to be quiet about it, or willing to go along with it.”

You’ll recall that Greene has rooted her political career in conspiracy theorizing, having initially gained attention through her fringe-right social media posts. She suspects that technology is often deployed for nefarious purposes, be it a forest-fire-causing space laser or electronic voting machines. And now, that someone, who is trying to … do something … had broken into her TV.

Look, it is unquestionably true that there are people who might be interested in gaining access to Greene’s technology devices. They would generally fall into one of three categories: international actors hoping to gain access to either Greene’s information (or, through her, other federal networks), criminals hoping to steal from or wring some money out of her or, third, pranksters. Then there’s the fourth group of people who might have connected a laptop to Greene’s television: neighbors who chose the wrong network or wrong Bluetooth device.

Washington, where the incident allegedly occurred, is a densely populated city! It’s hardly weird to think that someone sitting in his living room within network range of Greene might have clicked the wrong device as a connection point. Greene probably got a prompt on her screen saying something like, “John’s laptop is trying to connect to this device. Enter this code [1234] to connect.” She said no and the person trying to connect the device wasn’t able to — and probably quickly realized their mistake.

It is only such a neighbor or a prankster (interested in, say, broadcasting President Biden’s inaugural speech into Greene’s living room or something) who would want to display their laptop on her TV. A hacker seeking money or access to federal records would be no more interested in displaying something on her television than a burglar would be in breaking open the toilet cistern to look for cash. You’re not going to get anything useful out of doing so and you’re going to make it very obvious you were there.

But again, Greene uses conspiracy theories to reinforce a narrative. So it wasn’t just that someone tried to take over her TV, it was that they were maybe trying to somehow kill her. (Perhaps the pranksters were going to air “The Ring.”)

“Just for the record: I’m very happy,” she wrote, winking at the idea that some high-profile suicides were really murders. “I’m also very healthy and eat well and exercise a lot. I don’t smoke and never have.”

The phrasing allows for a “I’m just kidding, but it makes you think” framing if desired, a useful way to spread an allegation (here: maybe the elites want me dead!) with plausible deniability.

Greene is not the first person to use an easy-to-explain technology glitch as a conduit for suggesting that the government is out to get her. In 2014, CBS News’s Sharyl Attkisson accused the Obama administration of interfering with her reporting in part because words she was typing were being deleted as she wrote them.

First technology experts and then the Justice Department inspector general reached a benign conclusion, in part based on a video Attkisson shared: Her backspace key was stuck.

Here, again, the core allegation didn’t make sense. The federal government wanted to spy on a reporter and chose … to delete her words as she was demonstrably looking at the screen? Another burglary analogy is useful here: It’s as if a burglar wearing a balaclava and holding a bag reading “stolen goods” were to follow a homeowner out to their car, asking how long they’d be gone.

Much of the recent political discussion is predicated on similar misunderstandings of technology. Donald Trump’s insistences that the 2020 election was stolen were bolstered by people not really understanding how elections are run and votes counted, or by significant overestimations of the ability to influence a national election by allegedly (though not demonstrably) affecting county-level vote tallies. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell spent millions promoting the idea that vote totals had somehow been hacked over the internet, failing to come even close to proving his facially ridiculous claim.

Technology is in fact much more complicated than it used to be. There are novel ways to breach systems and to deploy the internet for malevolent purposes. Televisions are more than boxes with a cathode-ray tube. And that provides fertile soil for misinterpretations and misrepresentations of what technology might be doing. If Americans had a better understanding of electronic-voting systems in November 2020, history itself might have been different.

And if Greene were more familiar with consumer networking mechanisms, she could have avoided sharing another almost certainly wrong conspiracy theory.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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