Those durned hackers are at it again.
Back when TIME magazine released their 40 picks for readers to have their say in TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year, I rushed to the site to cast my vote for the heroic young Pakistani girl, Malala Yousafzai, shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for the ‘crime’ of advocating education for women in conservative Islam.
I clicked the dot by her name, then clicked ‘SUBMIT’ and waited for the poll results. To my shock/horror, the name leading the pack by a rather large margin was Kim Jong Un. That’s right, the North Korean dictator. Something was definitely rotten in the State of Denmark.
On December 13, the voting was done and TIME had their reader picks. Kim Jong Un had retained his sizable lead, followed by the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart. Jon’s partner in liberal comedy, Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report finished in 6th place. Chris Christie finished in 7th place, followed by Hillary Clinton.
In looking at the top finishers, I remember thinking I must be very out of touch with our culture – very little was predictable about this final outcome. But then I remembered hearing something about Time’s reader poll being rigged by hackers last year. And then it all made sense.
Time’s 2012 Person of the Year reader poll results were brought to you, not by readers, but by the notorious pranksters at the 4Chan social website. One of the pranksters going by the IRC user name of _js5 wrote a bit of clever Java script that was used by many members to saturate the poll with the results they wanted. And not only did they put on top the person least likely to succeed in the popularity contest, they manipulated the rankings to spell out K.J.U. GAS CHAMBERS. Don’t go looking too hard for any deep political meaning – in an e-mail sent by one of the 4Chan prank participants to media members, the phrase was chosen because, “it was clever, had semi-subtle offensive overtones, and wasn’t as childish as our second choice of KFC BUTT SEX.” The e-mail went on to say there was a deliberate attempt to somehow reference Hitler, so the hacktivist group “Nazi Underground,” aka Nazi UG is undoubtedly behind the prank.
While TIME readers may be incensed at the results, the Korean Central News Agency liked it, and today proudly reported to its readers that their ‘supreme’ leader was given the honor of “Man of the Year” by TIME, over “politicians, businessmen, artists, sportsmen, and announcers.” (I think America may want to start toning down its sarcasm when it relates to North Korea – it doesn’t seem to translate well over there, i.e., the Onion incident.)
Even though Jon Stewart’s runner-up finish to Kim Jong Un was due to the ‘J’ in his first name, he still finished ahead of the other ‘J’ names in the poll, including Vice President Joe Biden, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, and rapper Jay-Z. Additionally, Stephen Colbert finished ahead of the other ‘S’ names, which included right-wing billionaire donor Sheldon Adelson and women’s reproductive health advocate Sandra Fluke.
TIME magazine weakly tried to cover their reader poll results as if they were legitimate (and firmly pointed out in the article that TIME’s real person of the year will be chosen by their editors). They only referenced the pranksters toward the end of the article, writing, “some of the highest vote tallies got a boost from members of Internet forums like 4Chan, which launched a campaign to manipulate the results, pushing North Korea’s leader to the top of the list.”
Since this was the second year in a row that TIME’s reader poll was hacked, it’ll be interesting to see if the magazine will take some basic precautions to protect their poll next year, and even more interesting to see if 4Chan will be up to the challenge of thwarting it.
I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when TIME magazine will release their pick for Person of the Year. Last year they picked the Protester. Perhaps this year they should pick the hacktivist.
(And speaking of hacktivists, keep an eye on the NBA All-Star game starting lineup this year, the latest target of 4Chan’s clever computer cons.)