Newstweek, mutant news


In a crowded restaurant a small plastic box attached to a power outlet goes unnoticed. It could be a transformer or a charger. The box conceals, in fact, a small computer capable of mapping the traffic of the wireless network environment. The mini-device accesses the intercepted network by creating an SSH tunnel. Using a simple “search and replace” process, the online content viewed by users connected to that specific network can be changed remotely as root in real time. Julian Oliver and Danja Vasiliev have used this device (designed during the 27th Chaos Computer Club) to edit the news published on the websites of popular newspapers. It’s possible to see a simulation at NewsTweek , a fake of the famous Newsweek: many web pages are as usual, though some features have been suitably modified, such as the bizarre headlines at the limits of credibility (for example: “Milk and hormones: why your son has breasts?” or “Thomas Pynchon to wed Lady Gaga”). The main news on the site (real or constructed) has instead focused on the device itself and its unmasking: it details the story of a reporter who (by accident) re-read one of her articles and found the weird changes to the text made by another. With a quick phone call to her office she verified the changes were only to be found only on the network of the coffee shop she was in. The irony of the narrative is offset by a disarming fact. That the unmasking of the trick happened when a journalist read her own article is crucial: it highlighted the problem of confidence in fragile online information. Is it only through re-reading one’s own (modified) words that it is now possible to verify the reliability of news?