A phrase to describe the sudden incident that uncontrollably grows with exponentially
larger amounts of news coverage in complete disproportion to its original
newsworthiness. For example, when a Florida University student was Tasered, it resulted in a "data storm" (see example below).
Originally an obscure piece of Internet jargon that's occasionally used by cybrarians, computer techies and other IT professionals, the technical data storm is most commonly
caused by a defective card or cable that starts wildly sending out bad
packets of data. Other parts of the network respond to the bad packets,
causing yet more parts to respond and so on, until the whole system is
either responding to the packets or responding to the responses.
Historical perspective: The media version of a data storm consists of several stages as well, as the Florida Tasering incident reveals. According to the Prince George Citizen newspaper in British Columbia, this data storm "started in typically banal fashion -- Internet poser Andrew Meyer tried to go Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on Senator John Kerry during a forum. As he was ranting about the 2004 elections and the Skull and Bones Society, campus police attempted to remove him from the auditorium and, in the process of subduing him, Tasered him.
"Multiple video cameras captured Meyer's Tasering. A quick Hot Sync got the footage on YouTube -- spawning millions of hits and threads until the incident became so big it was impossible for evil, conniving mainstream media to ignore.
"Being the cynical, self-centered beast that it is, the mainstream media never really quite knows what to do with "net babble." It needs to legitimize the story -- convert it from mere traffic into sanctified news -- so it tried to take a sorry mess of a round peg and ram it into every square hole it could find. Suddenly it wasn't not about the Tasering of some loud mouth but "issues" -- free speech, police tactics, the Democratic Party, left-wing hypocrisy and political apathy among today's students -- to the point where Meyer is some latter-day Tom Paine and the campus police Brownshirts one step away from burning the Reichstag.
"You can see the progression -- calm grows to a squall in the blogosphere, which turns into a full-fledged data storm in the mainstream.The data storm hit the late-night comedy circuit, which, in this case, rapidly dissipated it. It's a frightening thought that North America's last-line source of sober analysis and reason is the likes of the Daily Show, but, hey, it works. Jon Stewart stamped out the madness with something along the lines of: "Today, police brutality collided with college student ouchebaggery ... There are no winners here."
"Debunked and its energy spent, the data storm swirled out of the mainstream and back into the confines of the blogosphere. All in all, pretty harmless stuff -- unless you happen to be Meyer, who spent a night in jail and may be charged a first-degree felony and a second-degree misdemeanor. It's also pretty bad for the campus police because two of the officers were placed on administrative leave by the university, pending review of the case.
"Both disproportionate responses to a disproportionate story. But that's the thing about the data storm -- it's entertaining to watch unless you happen to be caught in one."