August is the height of the news media's “silly season.” Major news outlets run stories they normally wouldn’t because most of the major news makers and reporters are on vacation. There's also the hope that readers/watchers/listeners, also on vacation, would prefer frivolous stories anyway. You can read some of the best silly season stories that have appeared in British papers courtesy of The Guardian, including the death of Benson, Britain's best-loved carp and an invasion of killer chipmunks.
I am not sure that the hackers who have been posting false Internet news stories recently are intentionally contributing to silly season, but they might as well be. For instance, a fake New York Times op-ed supporting WikiLeaks appeared a week ago Sunday. It was realistic enough to fool some journalists. Hackers (or hacktivists) supporting WikiLeaks later claimed responsibility for it.
Then, as reported by the sports website Deadspin.com and others, on Thursday there was a hilarious message appearing to have been sent to fans from the New York Yankees Facebook page that stated, “We regret to inform our fans that Derek Jeter will miss the rest of the season with sexual reassignment surgery. He promises to come back stronger than ever in 2012 as Minnie Mantlez." (The name is a combined reference to Hall-of-Famer Mickey Mantle and the Disney characters Mickey and Minnie Mouse.) The Yankees were only one of several Major League Baseball teams to have been struck, Deadspin reported.
On Friday, the Thomson Reuters Corp. announced that its blogging platform was compromised and that multiple false stories had been posted, including a supposed interview with the Free Syrian Army leader Riad al-Asaad. A story in the Wall Street Journal on Friday said that Reuters had to take down its blogging site, which used the WordPress blogging software. Today the Journal reported that Reuters was using an “old version” of WordPress that had “publicly known security issues.” Maybe Reuters can run a future story on the importance of keeping up with IT patches.
Reuters News also reported today that its Twitter account was hacked yesterday and that 22 false tweets had been sent, again mainly about the Syrian conflict. Reuters said that it has suspended its Twitter account until it is sure that it is secure.
It will be interesting to see what "news" this week will bring.
On a side note, I wonder how these false Reuters stories are messing with Reuters’ machine readable news algorithms and the potential impact? Do the algorithms give Reuters’ stories more credibility that those reported by other news agencies?
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.