It is somewhat disturbing at times when the bandwagon takes of and speeds up, without people being critical. People stand up for situations that may never have happened, and spin on it which ultimately results in that it will be trated as facts, or a faktoid.
We wanted to test this, how easy is it to spread disinformation?
Apple is the world’s largest company, so they can take a few knocks. The community around Apple is often very active, especially before an upcoming Keynote where it is expected that the company will introduce new products. In September is one, and everyone expects the iPhone 5 to be announced. Rumors are flowing about the phone, its appearance, its features, its materials and so on. We found this was a fitting goal for our test.
One afternoon we sketched out a screw in our 3D program, a very strange screw where the head was neither a star, tracks, pentalobe or whatever, but a unique form, also very impractical. We rendered the image, put it in an email, sent it to ourselves, took a picture of the screen with the mail and anonymously uploaded the image to the forum Reddit with the text ”A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws ”.
Then we waited …
Nice hack. I admit I looked at the screw, decided it was probably a plant, and sat back to watch the show. I wasn’t disappointed. (why did I think it was a plant? The screwhead seemed both too complex and at the same time easily circumventable. It’d take the folks who build the tools for the self-fixers almost no time to work around the hack, but the screw itself would be both expensive to manufacture and not reliable in the real world. IMHO)
Not the first time this has happened. Won’t be the last. a lot of the sites who depend on page views to drive ad revenue frankly do not care if it’s accurate or not; they just like having stuff out there they can stuff ads on. Their fan base breaks down into two groups: the folks who don’t take this crap very seriously, and the folks who take it all way too seriously. Either way, accuracy isn’t high on the list of values people demand of the sites. A few of the sites are actually pretty good, but many are simply in it for the page views and don’t care.
Back when I was with Mama Fruit, they took the rumor sites a lot more seriously than they do now. I think Apple’s come to terms with the reality that this stuff is to some degree or another going to leak, and trying to suppress it only spreads it further, so for the most part I think they try to ignore most of it and not encourage people to pay attention, which is a strategy I always suggested back in the day. Takedown notices merely focussed attention on rumors and gave them free publicity.
I also used to suggest that a way to counteract the rumor sites was through an active disinformation campaign; hit the rumor sites where it could potentially hurt with the audience you’re trying to convince to stop paying attention to them by giving the rumor sites information proven to be wrong enough that their audience writes them off. A campaigned of designed but incorrect rumors laid down on the rumor sites could create enough havoc that even the rumor sites wouldn’t know which leaks and leakers to pay attention to. At the very least, you could make their lives a bit of hell for a while and sit back and enjoy watching them twitch…
No, I never got Apple to take that idea seriously. There have been times in the last few years where I’ve wondered if they finally picked up on this idea (I still wonder about the “Apple is building their own TVs” rumor setup, since it’s a perfect thing to catch people’s attention and get them arguing over while Apple goes off and does something completely different — and notice how the rumors in this space have now shifted away from the TV back to set top boxes and content? Hmm.)
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but what the heck. Once I tweaked a couple of web pages I managed. Nothing major, just a couple of “inadvertent” links to pages that didn’t exist that were commented out. Very ambiguous stuff, just to see what happened. And like these folks, then I sat back and watched the show.
See, even then I knew there were rumor sites scraping as much of Apple as they could looking for changed pages and mistakes like this. It didn’t take long, and it hit some of the rumor sites. We got told to fix the pages, the links got pulled, and things settled down again, although every so often for a few months after that, some site or another would speculate on what those links were for. (hint: they were for making you wonder what they were for!).
And yeah, I got yelled at for doing it…. But it was more than worth it, just to watch people hyperventilate over it. Sometimes, it’s worth a kick in the pants to see the show….
(and I can still say that I know the truth about mammals.org, and you don’t… neener. And no, don’t bother asking…).