- By J. Dana StusterJ. Dana Stuster is an assistant editor at Foreign Policy. He has studied at the American University of Beirut and graduated in 2010 with degrees in English and International Relations from the University of California, Davis. Before coming to FP, his work appeared in the Atlantic and the National Interest, among other publications.
After the Associated Press tweeted, "Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured," it literally took only seconds for people to debunk the bomb scare.
from here in the WH basement, this acct seems hacked RT @ap: Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured
— E McMorris-Santoro (@EvanMcSan) April 23, 2013
Please Ignore AP Tweet on explosions, we’ve been hacked.
— Sam Hananel (@SamHananelAP) April 23, 2013
The fake @ap tweet was tweeted via web. Real AP tweets come from SocialFlow. Carry on.
— Ethan Klapper (@ethanklapper) April 23, 2013
AP immediately locked down the account (and it remains suspended as I write), but that wasn’t before the Dow dropped 70 points (it rebounded within 10 minutes).
The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of pro-Assad hackers that has been targeting major news organizations for months now, quickly took credit for the false tweet. In the AP’s story about the hacking of its own Twitter feed, it stated that the incident "came after hackers made repeated attempts to steal the passwords of AP journalists." The SEA defaced the homepages of Al Jazeera and Reuters last year, and more recently they’ve been targeting social media accounts in particular. Last month, for instance, they got into the BBC’s weather feed. In the past week alone, they’ve hit NPR and 60 Minutes. They’ve also gone after non-media targets, including Human Rights Watch and Columbia University.
The SEA’s level of tact varies: Hackers weren’t above making a fat joke about the emir of Qatar when they hacked @bbcweather last month. Other times, as when they broke into @60Minutes, they promoted the Assad regime’s narrative that the United States is empowering terrorist groups in Syria. The "media scare" approach seems to be a new development, but it is unclear to what extent SEA attacks are planned and coordinated, or whether they are directly affiliated with the Assad government.