To wade through social media over the past few days, you’d be forgiven for assuming Australia had been plunged into the depths of mayhem; into the abyss of cyber hackers and Governmental mismanagement in an epic scale.


The census debacle is a beautiful yet frustrating example of how uninformed social media opinion rapidly becomes fact and how mis-information quickly becomes something akin to online panic, once the popular media grasps hold of it.

The Census had been beaten around the head even before the website crashed, with complaints and grumbles about wastes of time and invasions of privacy. How ironic that these complaints were widely made on Facebook, surely the most obvious hotbed of over-sharing ever known to man. Jim and Jane Citizen upload photos of children, new cars with personalised plates, their teenagers brand new learners licence – complete with address and card numbers proudly in view – all without a blink of an eye. But as soon a story airs on Sunrise or StarFM about names and addresses being stored by the Government all hell breaks loose. I’m not sure about you, dear reader, but I regularly hand out my name and address information, you know, so people can find me.

Even those who may not wish to disclose their income are quick to join in the latest conversation about new Family Tax Benefit cuts or tax rates and lament that they now miss out or pay more. Hmmmm…  it doesn’t take much of a Sherlock Holmes to assume that means you earn more than 100K, or whatever the latest updated threshold is.

The Census also came with a fair bit of lead up advertising and promotion, and plenty of associated information available online. It is not too far-fetched to assume that those complaining on Facebook and Twitter know how to navigate their iPhone around a website, yet so many seemed to choose not to.

If they had taken the time, they would know that the Census asks questions about Tuesday August 9, but doesn’t have to be completed then – online users have several weeks yet to complete it.

There is also a paper form available so anyone with genuine concerns could just, I don’t know, use that form!

The Census website did crash and it did inconvenience those who had planned to complete the online process there and then, however that’s all that it is; an inconvenience. The hackers who have been the topic of conversation ever since didn’t breach the security set in place by the ABS, they simply set about maliciously causing havoc. They mimicked millions of simultaneous users, which did overload the system, to the point the ABS decided to abort the website. It is what is known in the cyber world as a ‘Denial of Service’ attack; simply put, online hackers causing chaos.

So no threat to national or personal security.

What could a hacker possibly hope to achieve if they were able to break into my Census records? “Number of births?” Instagram will tell you that. “Address?” Pre-school phone book has that info. “Date of birth?” Facebook or big mouthed friends can tell you that.

We might all be the centre of our own universes, but do any of us really have any information on those forms that is of interest to anyone else, other than the ABS, who’ll use it to decide where to put the next train stations?

If you had the incredible cyber skills that these hackers do (CSI Cyber fan right here) wouldn’t you be off looking into Area 57 or the disappearance at Hanging Rock?

Perhaps our next Census should ask “Have you cured terminal illness yet, by typing ‘Amen’?”