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Fake Steve Jobs has retracted the online AT&T joke that somehow morphed into a legitimate protest against the telco's wireless network. But it may be too late.

In a Wednesday post to his blog, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, Dan Lyons (aka Fake Steve) acknowledged that Operation Chokehold is "just a joke that has spun out of control and gained a life of its own."

Lyons is right. As of 2:00 p.m. Pacific time on Wednesday, a Facebook group in support of the idea to clog AT&T's service this Friday by spending an hour downloading data at noon Pacific time had grown to nearly two thousand fans.

A similar anti-Chokehold group had 20.

Speaking with Cult of Mac yesterday, an AT&T spokesman took Lyons to task over the prank. "We understand that fakesteve.net is primarily a satirical forum, but there is nothing amusing about advocating that customers attempt to deliberately degrade service on a network that provides critical communications services for more than 80 million customers," the spokesman said.

"We know that the vast majority of customers will see this action for what it is: an irresponsible and pointless scheme to draw attention to a blog."

Lyons says he hasn't been contacted personally by AT&T. And apparently, he's not concerned with that Cult of Mac statement. But it now seems that he wants to put the brakes on the protest - though he's not sure that's possible. "The point is," he writes, "I’m not sure we can stop this thing."

Lyons purports to be surprised at the outpouring of support for Operation Chokehold - "We didn’t think anyone would actually do this" - but his contrition has its limits. He says: "I really don’t want to cause any actual harm to my fellow AT&T users." But he then goes on to suggest alternate ways to bringing attention to AT&T's shoddy service.

"Maybe there are other, better ways of doing that," he writes, suggesting that the duration of the protest be limited to 15 minutes, or that rather than choking the service. "We change Operation Chokehold to Operation Silent Scream - and instead of all using the network at the same time, we instead all turn off our iPhones at the same time."

His final alternative he calls "perhaps the best one," suggesting: "Let's form actual flash mobs outside AT&T stores and put duct tape over their mouths."

Lyons reckons that doing so would draw wide coverage. "The media is already all over this protest. They’re loving it. They know how badly AT&T sucks and apparently they want to join us in our struggle."

And he wants to help: "If anyone gets a physical protest organized let me know where you're doing it and I'll publicize it here and will also help get media coverage."

But judging by the responses to his suggested watering-down of Operation Chokehold by Secret Diary commentards, Lyons has lost control of the hornets' nest he poked.

"Don't turn pussy, Lyons," says one poster. "This is no time to go wobbly, Fake Steve," says a second, channeling Lady Thatcher. Another: "No, don't apologize, backpedal, or otherwise wimp out." Yet another, in time-honored all-caps outrage: "I WANT TO DEMOLISH (SHORT-TERM) AT&T's DATA NETWORK! OPERATION CHOKEHOLD, GAME ON!"

And one commentard posted in seeming disbelief: "Let me get this straight - you want to go from an attempt at crashing a nationwide cellular network, a story that even if attempted will gain nationwide coverage to... a bunch of hippies being quiet outside a store in San Francisco?"

Mr. Lyons, Operation Chokehold is now out of your hands. As one poster put it: "The momentum this has created is beyond your control, and be prepared to accept the repercussions - good or bad."

Fake Steve. Real rage. ®

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