Lessons From the Fake New York Times Wikileaks Op-ed

On Sunday July 29th a fake NYT op-ed from Bill Keller appeared online and within hours had spread like wildfire across Twitter, including being retweeted by NYT staff. Below is a recap of what happened, and a look at some of the lessons this episode suggests about digital literacy and verification.

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  1. Below is a link to the fake op-ed. The page is designed just like a New York Times page, but you'll notice that the URL is wrong. The word "opinion" precedes the "nytimes.com" - the real URL for NYT opinion pages is:  http://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html . Many phishing websites use words, preceding the "official" URL as a way to spoof websites and mislead people. The fake website was incredibly intricate and well done, which helped the op-ed spread quickly.
  2. [Update: Wikileaks is now taking credit for the fake op-ed https://twitter.com/wikileaks/status/229660297655382016 . "Yes. We admit it. WikiLeaks (Assange & co) and our great supporters where (sic) behind the successful NYTimes banking blockade hoax on @nytkeller." h/t to Ernie Smith at ShortFormBlog for tipping me off to this news]
  3. It's unclear how long this webpage will stay live, so below is a screenshot. 
  4. In under an hour the piece had spread rapidly including being link to by New York Times tech columnist Nick Bilton.
  5. By morning Bill Keller had responded strongly and others began to correct or delete their earlier tweets.
  6. Some good information forensics have already helped turn up some clues about where this fake op-ed originated from. 

  7. Chris Soghoian pointed to these two tweets from accounts associated with Anonymous and Wikileaks around 1:00 am on the morning of July 29th as the first two tweets about the op-ed.
  8. However, Theodora Michaels found an earlier tweet from @Block_NYTimes, posted just after midnight. 
  9. Zeynep Tufekci and Christopher Soghoian looked up the WHOIS info for the URL and found that this stunt was in the works since spring of this year. 
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