Did you hear that a shady group of antisocial hackers threatened to release nude pictures of Emma Watson after she gave a highly visible speech at the United Nations? It turns out that was just one of many hoaxes that professional journalists unwittingly helped to propagate last week.
By Wednesday, a supposed PR firm had stepped up to claim responsibility for the threats against Watson, as part of an effort to take down 4chan. All the signs suggest that that PR firm itself was a hoax promulgated by an outfit known to engage in poor-taste stunts to get surges of traffic and advertising revenue.
It’s also clearly deplorable that Watson presumably had to face a day or more of the stress about what may have come next – whether pictures, real or faked, would be circulated around the world with a huge chunk of the internet’s attention on them. The prank is very nearly as cruel as the reality would have been in such an instance.
But there is a broader problem at stake here: the global news agenda is now regularly held hostage by small bands of loud but tech-savvy idiots.
On Tuesday, President Obama set out his reasons for beginning what could become another prolonged conflict in the Middle East. In the UK, Ed Miliband set out his party’s vision for next year’s election and beyond. Fresh measures were taken to try to stem west Africa’s Ebola outbreak. All these and more were doubtless dwarfed for page views on news sites across the world by people reading about a story that turned out to be a global prank. This should be a source of shame and introspection. Instead, it’s just a typical Tuesday. — theguardian.com