Resistance is Futile: Disney’s Open Source Brainwashing

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Update:  Walt Disney’s Real Commitment To Open Source

A recent episode of the Disney channel “sitcom”, Shake It Up, included a rather odd comment regarding open source software. The exchange between the youngsters essentially suggests that using open source code can lead to software being infiltrated by viruses or other malware, and being a “rookie mistake”:

Boy: “Did you use open source code to save time, and the virus was hidden in it?”

Girl: “Maybe…”

Boy: “Rookie mistake!”

As expected, the Internet immediately lit up with angry posts from free and open source software users. Was this meant as an intentional dig by Disney, who (as bloggers and commenters were quick to point out) were pro-SOPA? Or was it a simple case of the writers trying to make their work sound more current by using a buzz word they didn’t really understand? We’ve all seen TV shows or movies with laughably poor depictions of computer security, or marveled at feats of image manipulation that can extract the smallest details from low-resolution security camera footage; is this really any different?

Teaching a Dangerous Lesson

Regardless of how it happened, or what the logic was behind it, this little clip does put a very dangerous notion in the minds of young viewers. What they pulled from this few second exchange was very simple, and very bad:

“When I hear open source, it means there are probably viruses.” 

The free and open source community has tried very hard to break the unfair connotations that have surrounded it for years. Its taken us this long just to make people understand that free as in cost and free as in freedom are two different ideas, and that just because something doesn’t cost you any money to install doesn’t mean it isn’t an industry leader in ease of use and capability.

It’s no wonder then that the idea of millions of young boys and girls seeing this very unfair characterization of open source has ruffled some feathers. Exposing an entire generation of children to the idea that using open source code can lead to problems could have a negative impact for years.

Devil’s Advocate

On the other hand, I can’t directly refute the claims made by our young friend in the clip (did anyone else think he looked like a young Bill Gates?).

What he says is not, in fact, inaccurate. It is indeed posible to hide malicious code in an open source application, and further, being lazy and using open source code you don’t fully understand certainly could lead to problems down the road.

Of course, we all know that the source code being open means there is the possibility for peer review, and therefore the chances of any popular application hiding truly malicious code within it is relatively slim. But that still doesn’t make what was said on the show necessarily inaccurate.

What Happens Now?

People on the Internet are suggesting everything from a public apology to the free and open source community, to demanding increased technical accuracy from writers. But I think that realistically, we all know exactly what’s going to happen: nothing.

Hollywood has a long history of glossing over the details of how technology works, simply because the vast majority of people don’t know any better to call them out on it. That is, unfortunately, not likely to change anytime soon.

Holding Disney, of all companies, more accountable for technical accuracy than any of the other production companies seems more than a little unreasonable. Especially when, in reality, it wasn’t really technically inaccurate in the first place.

Still, if in a few years you start running into a bunch of young people who are convinced that using open source software on their computer can give them a virus…you might have Disney to blame.


Tom Nardi

Tom is a Network Engineer with focus on GNU/Linux and open source software. He is a frequent submitter to "2600", and maintains a personal site of his projects and areas of research at: www.digifail.com .

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  • joker159

    “you might have Disney to blame” I don’t think so :)

    it’s not disney fault !! REally disney is a very heavy and share their open source software.
    We have to blame the scenarist or producer of this sitcom!!

    bellow, this is Disney open source software link

    http://www.disneyanimation.com/technology/opensource.html

    this is the intro of the open source Disney software intro page

    “Open Source Software has a special meaning for Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS). The Studio has a deep history of technological innovation, ranging from pioneering the use of digital methods for creating hand-drawn animation using the Academy Award® winning software, CAPS, to developing 3D painting and rendering techniques in Deep Canvas, also Academy Award® winning software. Through the years, the Studio has continued to innovate in all aspects of creating animated works. As the state of the industry has changed, allowing Open Source Software to become a common foundation for many technologies, WDAS has championed the use of and now contributes to such software. In short, we want to contribute back to the community; therefore, we have established this platform. We encourage you to investigate and use the technologies we are sharing. We also very much welcome your collaboration and contribution in these areas.”

  • Jarda

    Luckily this sitcom is clearly targeted at retarded children of kindergarten age, whose opinion isn’t that important.

    • http://profiles.google.com/deanhowell2 Dean Howell

      Gotta brainwash them before they have minds of their own!

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  • Charlie Whitman

    What’s inaccurate about this is that it implies that open source software is more likely to have malicious code hidden in it, while in reality it is less likely to have malicious code hidden in it (since it’s harder to get away with hiding something in plain view for very long). It’s most likely just the script writer just confusing open source software with freeware. If you substitute “freeware” for “open source software” in the quote, then it makes perfect sense. As it is, it doesn’t really make much sense at all.

  • dgrb

    Welcome to the World of Walt, historical revisionism a speciality.

    Oddly, nobody seemed concerned when their cartoon movie about Russia implied that the revolution was satanically-inspired and Rasputin some sort of magical figure.

    Disney has seemed to me for decades to symbolise everything (well, OK, not everything) that is wrong with the USA.

    But I think Orson Welles put it best, after a couple of abortive meetings with Walt over a collaboration some lunatic had suggested.

    Walt, he said, “is your typical Sun-Belt neo-fascist.”

    So, yes, this is a truly appalling thing to appear in a “sitcom”.

    But hardly surprising.

  • A. C.

    Whether open source freeware or a bootleg copy of expensive software, it is a common rookie mistake to presume it’s clean. If the show was true life, you could be pretty sure the boy spoke from painful experience.

    “Good judgement is the product of experience. Experience is the product of bad judgement.”

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