On Sunday morning I saw a tweet from @Wilkileaks to a New York Times column from Bill Keller defending WikiLeaks. I hadn’t noticed such a piece when I’d been reading the New York Times on Saturday night or seen it listed in the Opinions section of the New York Times app on my phone. I read it and then became engrossed in the matter at hand, helping load my son’s and husband’s bikes after they’d ridden 16 miles on a bike trail in New Jersey.
THERE IS A FAKE OP-ED GOING AROUND UNDER MY NAME, ABOUT WIKILEAKS.EMPHASIS ON “FAKE. “AS IN, NOT MINE. — Bill Keller (@nytkeller) July 29, 2012
The fake column, entitled “WikiLeaks, a Post Postscript,” had been carefully formatted to have the very appearance of the New York Times site and the piece’s writing mimicked Keller’s style though it did include a sentence that Keller had written, taken from an email that Keller (the real individu al) had sent Mathew Ingram of GigaOM. ”I’ve said repeatedly, in print and in a variety of public forums, that I would regard an attempt to criminalize WikiLeaks’ publication of these documents as an attack on all of us.” On July 25, GigaOM had published a piece (including excerpts from Keller’s emails to Ingram) about why Keller “agrees the organization should be protected by the First Amendment and media companies should come to its defence.”
New York Times technology writer Nick Bilton, the Guardian‘s Dan Gilmor and the hacker group Anonymous initially thought the column was indeed by Keller. The Guardian explains how whoever wrote the fake column circulated it through Twitter — this was a well-thought out ruse:
The fake article was distributed through Twitter using a couple of routes. One appeared to be via Keller’s own official Twitter feed with the handle @nytkeIler.
A closer look at that feed, though, reveals that the handle @nytkeIler was subtly misspelt to confuse the reader. The apparent two Ls in the middle were in fact spelled with a capital i and a lower case L as in @nytkeiler.
The same ruse was used to post a fake tweet under Keller’s name saying “I am now a world expert in dressage. Ask me anything.”
The second route was through Keller’s genuine Twitter feed. A reference to the fake article by @journalismfest was retweeted under Keller’s official name, suggesting that his Twitter feed may have been hacked.
The fake column was posted on a site whose web address looked just enough like it was part of the New York Times, http://www.opinion-nytimes.com/2012/07/29/opinion/keller-a-post-postscript.html. The Guardian reports that this fake domain was registered on March 30 and that the New York Times is investigating the prank — which involved plagiarism and seems clear in its attempt to deceive people into thinking it was a real column by Keller — too see “whether its web systems had been compromised and whether there were any legal issues resulting from the copying of its domain format.”
Keller (yes, the real Keller) was clearly miffed and not amused, telling the Guardian “I see this in the realm of childish prank rather than crime against humanity. It’s a lame satire. I’d take it a little more seriously if it were actually funny.”
A former New York Times executive editor speaking out for Wikileaks on the very Opinion page of that newspaper: It sounds too good to be true and it was. It’s certainly likely that we’ll see more of such pranks and plagiarisms and some of a potentially more insidious nature. How can we teach ourselves to distinguish the real from the fake?
Wikileaks has claimed responsibility in a July 29 tweet:
Yes. We admit it. WikiLeaks (Assange & co) and our great supporters where behind the successful NYTimes banking blockade hoax on @nytkeller.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) July 29, 2012
Though at this point, it’s not unreasonable to question even this claim.
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Photo by Sean MacEntee