So Wikileaks published a phony article — purportedly by New York Times editor Bill Keller, but really by an imposter — which was supportive of Wikileaks. The hoax was very well done and fooled a lot of people into thinking Keller truly supports Wikileaks to the hilt. The article was published at the phony Web address opinion-nytimes.com instead of their actual opinion pages at nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html, and looked like this:
TIME explains further:
The phony column was posted on a website that looks exactly like the online version of the New York Times Opinion Page — the pranksters even loaded the site with similar-looking ads and links to other (legitimate) Times webpages. But that wasn’t all. The WikiLeaks hoax-masters injected some tromp l’oeil magic into their scheme. The article was initially tweeted by @nytkeIler, a ripoff of Keller’s real Twitter handle, @nytkeller. (In Twitter’s standard font, a capitalized “I” and lowercase “l” are nearly indistinguishable.) And while the host domain of the article, http://opinion-nytimes.com, clearly varies from that of the paper’s actual Opinion site (http://nytimes.com/opinion), it was approximate enough to fool readers.(Note that the “substitution of the capital I for the lower-case L” trick was used against Jennifer George from California during Weinergate, when a hoaxster imitated her @blogarsay account with a hoax account called @bIogarsay.)
TIME also explained how the verisimilitude of the piece was enhanced by genuine Keller quotes lifted from an email sent to a blogger, who republished the email on his site.
There are those who say this stunt undermines Wikileaks’s “credibility.” I’m not sure what “credibility” a site necessarily has that publishes stolen and even “hacked” information. But to the extent that Wikileaks had credibility with anyone, publishing a hoax certainly isn’t going to enhance that credibility. I mean, it’s not like it’s April Fool’s Day or anything. (*Ducks*)
What this is, I think, is a reminder that hackers are not always going to publish the truth. Just because someone releases a huge cache of supposedly hacked emails, for example, does not mean they haven’t sprinkled a few false gems in there. Yet people will always seem to take the word of the leaker/hacker over that of the established entity, regardless of the squirrelly nature of the publisher.
It is reminiscent of Justice Scalia’s views on stories about Supreme Court deliberations, as expressed in the video I linked last night. Justice Scalia says that one should not credit stories about internal deliberations, because if they are not a lie, they are based on the word of people who are unreliable — because they have promised not to reveal those deliberations, and then turned around and did it anyway.
He has a point. I think if such stories are properly corroborated — as much of “The Brethren” appeared to be, for example — they can provide a useful insight into court deliberations. But you always have to remember that you’re trusting the word of people who promised not to tell these stories. Meaning you’re ultimately relying on unreliable people.
One final question on the Wikileaks deal: a hoaxster in the orbit of Julian Assange, you say? A dirty-tricks type guy moving the world of hackers? Someone familiar with the Weinergate-era trick of using a capital “I” in place of a lower-case “L” in a Twitter handle?
I wonder who that could be.