Legalese is Unreadable by Normal Human Beings So Surprises Might Lurk There

Bury alarming content in legalese. Almost no one will read it. Even if they click the I-Agree-with-All-my-Heart button.

Say you’re committing a crime (apparently) and you put it into a video, hoping to go viral. Write in tiny type a legal page that you didn’t do it.

Painting Air Force One with graffiti is not usually done. Probably never. But maybe it was once. Someone said he did and put up a video and “encouraged” “distribution”. News media reported it, although possibly questioning whether it really happened. An advertising industry news story says many news organizations reported it. I looked at the video and couldn’t make up my mind. No question that the blue jet was Air Force 1. The video was amateur, spliced and very jumpy, but you’d expect the video to be of low quality if someone is going to sneak to next to one of the most treasured planes in the country while it’s under guard by either the Secret Service or the Air Force or both, not where most vandals care to be collared. Probably, a professional videographer wouldn’t risk a career to do this and masking the perp needs splicing, even if it’s rough. So an amateur video is the answer. But legendary computer security expert Bruce Schneier blogged about it as an open question (until he updated to report it as a hoax). (More technical doubts about the aircraft were offered on one website, but I doubt I saw those then.)

Buried in legalese is the revelation that it was fictional. But it seems that the tiny legal language went unnoticed even by major, trained, experienced, high-profile news organizations.

Other institutions have other tricks. One government agency sent its fine print in pink ink on white paper. Apparently, they printed its notices every month in a different ink color, but maybe a lawyer didn’t advise about using light color on white paper, the low contrast being hard to read.

Legally, burying alarming content in legalese may create a problem of quality of notice. And if you’re planning to paint a slogan on Air Force One, get a lawyer.