Eyewitness Accounts and The News – 1940’s on
I’ll start when the modern day ‘flying saucer’ story started, although recordings of UFOs go back to BC times.
The first UFO to start the ‘flying saucer’ trope in America actually wasn’t a saucer – it was a squad of ships shaped like boomerangs that rotated like saucers. Newspaper telephone turned the banana-shaped ships into simple circles.
The person who saw them was a trusted, reliable pilot, so the story ended up in the news – the year was 1947, and although he was a private pilot, the job was difficult and garnered a lot of respect. He saw it with his own two eyes! There were very few instruments on board to help him define what he saw. The logical conclusion, therefore, is that the other crafts had something to block the extremely basic radar available at the time, leaving his eyes the only tools he had left. Who wouldn’t trust a hardworking, honest pilot? Especially after so much went into juicing up their public reputation during the second World War.
As time goes on, more pilots report strange phenomena upon landing, stuff they couldn’t have possibly recorded, otherworldly stuff. They had nothing but the equipment in their crafts to help them describe what they saw. Phantom ships that only the radar saw, visible ships that the radar didn’t, ships somewhere in the middle that were visible, but only briefly, strange glows, odd behavior in the clouds, the list goes on. They could record height and approximate location via a map and their travelling speed, but otherwise, they were completely and totally alone. Cameras could go up in planes, yes – but that wasn’t as simple as it is today, and seeing this stuff was rare. Nobody blamed cameramen for not catching anything when they went, and they couldn’t go up all the time on every plane.
Part of this is that print media itself was old and well-respected. It was one of very few ways to get news at the time. TVs weren’t quite everywhere, and radio wasn’t 24-7, but print news was cheap and accessible. Images were ‘trustworthy’, as many people didn’t grasp how easy photos were to manipulate, especially back then when rural folks could go their entire lives without touching a camera, or getting their own picture taken – a photo of a blur in the clouds when someone did happen to catch something strange was taken as fact. Rebukes were slow, and not as sensational. Aliens, as far as newspapers were concerned, were visiting Earth. Not everyone cared, and not everyone believed it, but this seeded an unshakeable belief in aliens in America.
The Blurry Photo Era – 1960’s to 1980’s
Once handheld devices were more available to people out in the sticks, bizarre, blurred images of things floating in the sky alongside blurred images of cryptids in forests began appearing. They were published to magazines, shared among groups, pictured on tabloid TV, and discussed publicly. Unlike before, though, these people worked all sorts of jobs, often less glamorous than pilots. The participants soon earned a reputation for being crackpots, crazy, or liars – after all, the best evidence they had was often barely better than an eyewitness statement. A blur.
It didn’t help that mental illness wasn’t really a ‘thing’ during this time period. Paranoia, schizophrenia, PTSD, etc. were all under the same umbrella of ‘insane’. People suffering from untreated illnesses were deliberately picked on alongside believers who were of sound mind to discredit all believers as ‘insane’. Even if someone did see something unexplainable, they’d be fighting uphill against the stigma set up by news sources. Eyewitness accounts become meaningless except to other people already looking for a reason to believe.
At the same time, professionals were also more connected to the public than ever, and so common phenomena that would have been UFOs (ball lightning, sun dogs, the green flash over the ocean during sunset, etc.) were now much more easily described and identified as natural, terrestrial stuff. Someone could come forward with a strange picture and get themselves shot down publicly.
However, many were also able to identify and picture real non-natural objects that they just didn’t understand. Weather balloons are much bigger than most people think they are, and the US is always trying to improve its arsenal with tech the other guys don’t have yet, so stories of mysterious super-sonic vehicles that appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye aren’t necessarily lies. They just came at an inconvenient time for the militaries of the world, and aliens were easier to dismiss than manmade crafts were.
Clarifying that this was a real craft, therefore, was not going to happen. It was in everybody’s best interest to say that the witness said it was aliens. You wouldn’t want a cold war to turn hot over some amateur’s photos of your spy balloons, right? While TV watchers found them entertaining, it was more comfortable to assume witnesses saw whatever they saw wrong, even when they didn’t.
UFOs had more stories, but less credibility.
Mobile Phones (And Smartphones) 1990’s to 2006
Mobile phones capable of taking pictures started popping up in the late 90s and early 2000s, and with them, even more blurry, bad photos of cryptids and UFOs started appearing online – but they were less blurry than the previous generation, and the appearance of the internet meant that people who had experienced something otherworldly could share it alongside the photo without having to get onto TV or Radio. The sheer number of these stories lent them some credibility. Plus, their stories couldn’t be chopped up into something incomprehensible by someone else, like it sometimes was earlier. The story came straight from the horse’s mouth!
Smartphones made most of them disappear, however, during the transition from an offline world to an online one. I haven’t seen a ‘new’ photo of a UFO since 2006, not counting DoD videos and the like. Average, ordinary people can’t seem to snap pics of alien craft anymore. The quality of the camera is a big part of that! Suddenly, it didn’t make sense that images were blurry.
In the 90’s, cameras had a natural sort of fuzz to them unless it was professional equipment, and that fuzz made it easier to disguise altered photos. Edges could be blurry back then. They can’t be blurry now. It also no longer made sense that multiple eyewitnesses “Saw something in the sky” and none of them thought to take a picture while it was hovering. And now we don’t get any more half-blurry, half-filtered images of UFOs. Instead we get more eyewitness accounts and really well-photoshopped fakes.
Tech improves, and suddenly sightings are rare, but the ones we do get are much more believable, or come from trustworthy sources… like the military.
Modern era – 2007 – Now
And military tech is always improving. All this new tech to see things is actually often blinding. Hear hoofbeats? Think horse, right? Well… when the tech allows you such incredibly fine-tuned detail of the animal, it’s possible to confuse yourself with things you’d never have to worry about if you were just using your eyes to see that the animal is brown. Imagine being able to see the exact temperature and speed of a four legged animal, but not it’s color, because it’s too far away. You may even be able to see size… but horses come in all kinds of sizes, so if it’s the same size as the zebra, you still haven’t solved the mystery. You record it and avoid it like a smart person would, and when you get back, they’re trying to identify it with you.
The three videos released recently by the DoD, for example, could be a number of things, but they are UFOs until someone identifies them. But not all UFOs are equally unidentifiable, and many have simple, easy explanations. A duck can be a UFO. Another plane can be a UFO. A weather balloon can be a UFO. If you can’t identify the flying object with certainty, it’s an unidentified flying object. That’s it. The tech of today just allows pilots to see things from several kilometers away while moving at mach speed, so they’re able to pick up moving things they wouldn’t have been able to see before. Unfortunately, this often means that they’re seeing specks with heat signatures. The public then conflates an unidentified speck with a full-blown zebra, even though at the distance it was filmed at, it could have been a friendly dog.
If the pilot is especially crafty, they may help the perception of the zebra along even if they don’t know either. The Tic Tac video and its story are some of the most contentious UFO ‘evidence’ available on the web today, and for good reason. The Tic Tac video and the two Tic Tac eyewitness accounts are all different from each other. One pilot only caught a glimpse of it, one says that the Tic Tac behaved aggressively for five or so minutes (and that keeps changing), and the video just shows a small white dot at a great distance moving in front of the ocean.
We can’t see color, we can’t see shape, we can’t see anything about it other than its relative speed and temp. It could just be a seabird. It could be a tiny personal craft, like a glider. We have no video of the thing actually darting around in the way the pilot describes later – ways that defy physics. Jerks in the video are due to the camera not being able to turn anymore, or the auto-lock simply losing the object, not the object itself ‘jerking’.
I’d like to trust the pilot, I really would – but which makes more sense? An otherwise ordinary man in a high-profile job lied to get some time in the spotlight, or an interstellar traveler came from space without being detected until it got onto the Navy’s turf, behaved in ways that broke the laws of physics as we know them in front of observers, and then disappeared, again, without being spotted?
We can only hear hoofbeats, and the pilot swears it’s a zebra with no evidence other than “trust me”.
All of this tech is great, but it also enables lying by being specifically vague. People who really, really want to believe in aliens cherrypick relevant details out of these videos to get the conclusion they want. They then share this narrative that it must have been an alien because the information in the video that could argue against that is so critically important but so easy to ignore. Speed. Temp. How far the camera can rotate. Laymen don’t often have to look at readouts like this, so easy-to-miss details like the speed being relative instead of absolute sometimes drifts right by. Proving them wrong as a layman is nearly impossible because they’ve told the truth – just not all of it.
The most infuriating part of this is that the DoD would never release these videos if they didn’t know A) what they weren’t and B) whether or not they were a threat. They specify that the videos don’t reveal any sensitive data. The context of these videos is just as important as the content – you never see videos of UFOs threatening US pilots, because it would cause unrest if such videos ever made it to the public.
You never see videos of something clearly manmade and powerful but unidentified either, because releasing those videos would be as good as admitting that some other nation has a craft on par or superior to the US’s, and the US can’t have that. Maybe interstellar UFOs do exist – but if the Navy has seen them, that footage isn’t just out in the open. Regular boring old UFOs that are just unidentified flying stuff aren’t as exciting.
A Side Note
Tech reduces the reliance on interviewers. This is a good thing, because a poor interviewer can completely wreck a case or story before it’s even gotten off the ground. It’s well-documented that people, especially children, can misremember things if the interviewer isn’t careful. “What color of shirt was he wearing?” Vs. “And he was wearing a dark blue shirt, right?” Produce different responses. If the person doesn’t know for certain what shirt the suspect was wearing, they may misremember it as dark blue instead of simply saying they don’t remember or didn’t see.
Humans are social creatures – children especially will react to what they perceive as positive attention from a caring adult (the interviewer) by fibbing or subconsciously altering their story to get more of that positive attention. They may not even be aware that they’re doing it, and they’ll definitely remember it wrong after the fact. For this reason, you also shouldn’t conduct interviews in groups to avoid memory cross-contamination.
Conducting interviews like this, therefore, is undeniably bad for justice and truth. Look for it when watching documentaries on UFOs – do they interview in a group? Do they ask strangely-worded follow-up questions designed to get a certain, soundbiteable response? Does the interviewer lead the interviewee?