Feeds

WikiLeaks punks The New York Times with op-ed hoax

Two columnists unwittingly spread fake editorial

High performance access to file storage

Early on Sunday, columnists Nick Bilton and Bill Keller of The New York Times both reposted Twitter links to an essay by Keller on the subject of WikiLeaks. There was just one problem: The linked essay wasn't actually Keller's, but an elaborate hoax designed to discredit both him and the newspaper.

WikiLeaks itself has since taken credit for the prank on its own Twitter feed, saying, "Yes. We admit it. WikiLeaks (Assange & co) and our great supporters where [sic] behind the successful NYTimes banking blockade hoax on @nytkeller."

The pranksters published the essay to the URL "www.opinion-nytimes.com" using a web layout identical to that of the newspaper's opinion pages, then promoted it using a Twitter account disguised to look like Keller's.

Where Keller's actual account is @nytkeller, the fake account replaced one of the lowercase Ls with an uppercase I, a change that's almost invisible when rendered in sans-serif type. Twitter users noticed the post and passed it on without properly verifying it – including, it seems, the unwitting columnists.

All three Twitter @nytkeller-lookalike accounts using Is in place of Ls have since been blocked.

The fake essay, entitled, "WikiLeaks, A Post Postscript," was styled as a follow-up to "WikiLeaks, A Postscript," an earlier, legitimate editorial in which Keller derided WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as "a B-list celebrity" and argued that the whistleblower outfit had not changed the world all that much.

"The most palpable legacy of the WikiLeaks campaign for transparency is that the US government is more secretive than ever," Keller wrote.

The hoax editorial pretends Keller has done something of an about-face on the WikiLeaks issue, in light of calls by Republican legislators for The New York Times journalists to be tried under the Espionage Act for recent investigative reports on US foreign policy.

It further paints Keller as a government patsy who has butted heads with WikiLeaks in the past, not because of how he feels about its efficacy as an organization, but because he believes news reporting should only be done with "government checks and balances" in place:

Had The Times had exclusive access to the WikiLeaks cables, we could have pursued a similar government-review-before-publication policy, thus safeguarding national security from legal and public scrutiny. Though I must say I have yet to hear of any actual harm or consequences from the nearly 260,000 cables released in 2010.

The fake Keller goes on to say that although he believes journalism "should work in unison with government," he believes it is wrong for MasterCard, PayPal, Visa, and other payment-processing companies to block funds intended for WikiPedia, and he worries that they may soon do the same to his employer.

Once Bilton and the real Keller realized their mistake in helping to publicize the hoax, they quickly deleted their original Twitter posts and Keller posted a correction EMPHASIZING THAT THE ESSAY REALLY, REALLY WASN'T BY HIM.

For many WikiLeaks supporters, however, the point had been made, and loudly. Twitter poster @JLLLOW wrote, "The joke is that many found 'fake' Keller's stunning self-interest and professional hypocrisy believable enough to attribute to him."

But others felt that for WikiLeaks to cross the line into Anonymous-style "pranktivism" was a serious misstep.

"I say it's a nadir for Wikileaks," Jay Rosen, media critic and professor of journalism at New York University, wrote in a Twitter post. "Their ship was launched on the sea of verification. They just sunk it. For attention." ®

High performance access to file storage

More from The Register

next story
Audio fans, prepare yourself for the Second Coming ... of Blu-ray
High Fidelity Pure Audio – is this what your ears have been waiting for?
Dropbox defends fantastically badly timed Condoleezza Rice appointment
'Nothing is going to change with Dr. Rice's appointment,' file sharer promises
MtGox chief Karpelès refuses to come to US for g-men's grilling
Bitcoin baron says he needs another lawyer for FinCEN chat
Did a date calculation bug just cost hard-up Co-op Bank £110m?
And just when Brit banking org needs £400m to stay afloat
Zucker punched: Google gobbles Facebook-wooed Titan Aerospace
Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon flying broadband-bot
Apple DOMINATES the Valley, rakes in more profit than Google, HP, Intel, Cisco COMBINED
Cook & Co. also pay more taxes than those four worthies PLUS eBay and Oracle
It may be ILLEGAL to run Heartbleed health checks – IT lawyer
Do the right thing, earn up to 10 years in clink
France bans managers from contacting workers outside business hours
«Email? Mais non ... il est plus tard que six heures du soir!»
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
HP ArcSight ESM solution helps Finansbank
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.