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Artisan Entertainment creates fake News Site

By mwalker in Culture
Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 01:28:49 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

Recently I read on a local news web site that five people had been murdered in a park near where I work. Needless to say, I was extremely distressed - until I found out that it was a hoax. A rather determined hoax.

The smoking gun was the fact that the web site of the supposed serial killer has the following WHOIS data: Administrative Contact: DNS Hostmaster (LC626-ORG) hostmaster@ARTISANENT.COM Artisan Entertainment I cycle in this park on a daily basis and quite frankly this hoax scared the crap out of me. The issues of accountability and due dilligence are still fuzzy on the Internet, and I think this story highlights that fact - who can tell this site from a real local news site at first glance? Should hoaxes this elaborate be against the law? Can the web of trust model solve this problem?


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


Did Artisan Entertainment step over the line?
o Yes 23%
o No 28%
o This hoax isn't convincing enough to ever be believed 21%
o Artisan should be sued - this is "fire" in a crowded theatre 5%
o 42 21%

Votes: 108
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o murdered
o rather determined hoax
o web site
o Administrative Contact: DNS Hostmaster (LC626-ORG) hostmaster@ARTISANENT.COM Artisan Entertainment
o real local news site
o Also by mwalker

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Artisan Entertainment creates fake News Site | 28 comments (22 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
That's called a semantic attack. (2.20 / 5) (#6)
by Kaa on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:41:49 AM EST

Read Bruce Schneier's Crypto-gram newsletter. It deals with precisely this issue.

Kaa's Law: In any sufficiently large group of people most are idiots.

Over the line (2.25 / 12) (#7)
by Signal 11 on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:42:51 AM EST

The reason this steps over the line is because there has been a standard, if not a tradition, of having news hoax sites either deliver the punchline at the bottom of the story, or to have a very small print disclaimer at the bottom of the page saying "This is a hoax / satire, not real, etc".

I think they crossed the line because this site has none of that. Would I go as far as to sue them? No, but somebody else might: Like the people in the town where this alleged crime went. There's a reason for this tradition, and having bypassed it, the problems are now quite evident.

If you lie and it harms someone else (as has certainly happened in this case), you can't go back and claim it was a joke later.

Society needs therapy. It's having
trouble accepting itself.

You got scammed ! (3.66 / 12) (#8)
by redelm on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:43:36 AM EST

I love this post. He got scammed and is whinging (for our UK readers) in archtypical fashion.

The WWW is no better than USENET and you'd better get used to it. Disinformation abounds. Read everything with a critical eye. Consider the source. Do not expect to be spoon fed. Free speech is freest when least restricted (doh!)

The "fire in a theatre" restriction is only barely tolerable because: 100 years ago, thousands lost their lives in theatre fires; and The danger is immediate and pressing. You do not have time to verify independantly. Slander/libel resitrictions are also only barely tolerable to deter fraudulent profiteering.

No, he scammed us! (none / 0) (#28)
by error 404 on Fri Nov 03, 2000 at 12:05:10 PM EST

The site is an ad for BW2.

My guess: In order to get some hits on the site, this guy posts complaints about how the site misled him.

I bet he's either the webmaster or being paid by the webmaster.

I expect similar posts to pop up on /. and lots of other places. It will work.

We been spammed.

Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
Hmm (2.66 / 9) (#10)
by loner on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:51:25 AM EST

Now I wonder if this article is not an even more elaborate hoax where mwalker has gone through the trouble of setting up fake websites that try to pull a hoax on the unsuspecting public, all to just hoax us into thinking that some material on the web is fake...

Now my head hurts...

And who's ever following me better stop it right now!

All in jest of course. :) :) :)

Against the law? (3.62 / 8) (#11)
by pangmaster on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 11:54:46 AM EST

There is so much information readily available on the Internet that it is often difficult to ascertain its credibility. Of course, this same principle applies to all information from all sources. It is up to each individual to educate themselves so that they may determine for themselves what is plausible and what is not.

Should hoaxes this elaborate be against the law?

We should be careful before we consider passing legislation that attempts to stop things that we don't like. There are some serious implications with this: Who will decide what "crosses the line?" How would such a law be enforced?

This boils down to censorship and that is an ugly word.

-- "Freedom of speech... Just watch what you say..." -Ice T
I don't do Windows...

Whose laws? (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by dead_radish on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 01:29:00 PM EST

And whose laws? If I post a story about mass murders in Newgrange Ireland, from Austin Tx, who is going to have jurisdiction?

We need Internet Cops! Yeah! That's it! They live in . . . in . . . a space station! Yeah! And they can, like, shoot laser beams and stuff down into the computers of people that do stuff! And they have a jet that they can fly to the ISP, and blow up their servers, cause they're internet cops, and every country in the world believes in them! Yeah!

One of those paragraphs wasn't serious.

I knew I shoulda brought a crossbow. -- Largo. www.megatokyo.com
[ Parent ]

Uh uh... I'll take fake news over censorship (4.00 / 14) (#12)
by maynard on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:02:56 PM EST

I love these sorts of pranks which clearly show how poorly the news industry researches and fact checks before publication. I note Joey Skaggs, creator of the infameous Cat House For Dogs prank which completely misled journalists and got national news attention.

Background: In 1976 Skaggs placed an ad in the Village Voice offering prostitution services for dogs in the New York area. The service never existed, but it did draw tremendous media attention and finally a vice squad raid, until everyone realized they'd been had. :-)

You can read more about this and other pranks in the RE/SEARCH book Pranks. A great read. :-)


Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.

Blair Witch (3.55 / 9) (#13)
by sH on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:11:58 PM EST

Several months before the Blair Witch Project came out, I stumbled upon their website. I showed it to some people and no one was sure if it were real or not. They had authentic-looking papers, etc. etc. and a very elaborate, and detailed, story of a town that actually exists. In other words, I can identify with being ticked. Of course, we all figured it out and no harm was done.

I had hoped that the initial scare of the entire Blair Witch internet venture would have taught us something, especially since it was mimicked by the whole Scream crew. At any rate, I think it is safe to say that if anything frightful is related to Burkittsville MD, it is either part of the Blair Witch advertisement campaign or it is related to the BWP. I mean, obviously, the headline gives all the evidence needed -- "Families of Black Hills Murder Victims Protest Upcoming Release of New 'Blair Witch' Film".

Anything associated with the Blair Witch films should be considered false by common sense now. The way they generate support is by these means, and it works. One just has to realize when it is false. The site has no real content, and it makes reference to BWP having some basis in reality. I think it's an obvious hoax, but that is just me.

By asking if that sort of thing should be illegal, one must consider OTHER forms of this, like The Onion. It could be played off as real, as it has interviews with real people (sometimes) and could be mistaken if one had never read or heard of the site before. IF we make that illegal, sites like the Onion should also be illegal.

I guess the phrase "don't believe everything that you read" is in good measure. If nothing else, look at the other local news site and see if it has the same report. Hell, if it is local, you should know that it didnít exist, right?

In addition (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by vinay on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:50:54 PM EST

I think that trying to legislate something like that would quickly lead to infringements of the 1st Amendment. If harm is obviously caused (i.e. people are phsyically injured, etc. by the story, then there is legal resource akin to shouting fire in a crowded movie theatre), then that's a different story. Other than that, and you set yourself up for greater and greater infringements of free speech. In sum I think the best defense is, as you said, "don't believe everything that you read." It's very akin to being an informed consumer of everything (news, products, services).



[ Parent ]
This whole post is a blair witch ad (4.75 / 4) (#17)
by Defect on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:56:45 PM EST

Anything associated with the Blair Witch films should be considered false by common sense now. The way they generate support is by these means, and it works.

The corollary to that statement is that this post is just a blair witch advertisement.

Which makes a certain amount of sense, after all, why was mwalker reading that site for his local news? Did he just do a search for "local news maryland burkittsville" or what? I don't know about anyone else, but i rarely randomly come upon "local news" sites in me web outings, and i already know where to go if i do want news.

maybe this "mwalker" person (if that is your real name) owns part of artisan or is benefitting from the blair witch movies in some way and figured a news post littered with blair links but also having some merit for thought would spread fairly well on a site like this.

I'm not sure how much i was actually joking about up there now that i think about it.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Negligence on the Net (3.50 / 8) (#14)
by JB on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:20:20 PM EST

Lack of Due Diligence/Negligence on the internet is not any fuzzier than in regular life - If you can show that someone did something stupid or imprudent, and you or your property are harmed, you have standing to file a lawsuit.

Minor discomfort is usually not enough to block free speech in the U.S. But if knowingly publishing a lie resulted in people being physically harmed, their reputations unfairly destroyed, or if stock prices were affected, then the court will generally consider the case - whether it is internet, print, or word of mouth.

Your case boils down to what you think the jury would consider real injury - have you lost sleep or had reoccuring nightmares, has your job performance deteriorated, have you had to seek psychological treatment for the injury inflicted by the story? Or did you just feel kinda scared for a day until you found out it was a hoax?

Right! (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by fuchikoma on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 12:42:32 PM EST

Actually, it's pretty interesting because it forces you to question with greater scrutiny the credibility of other news sites that you visit.

Personally, I think they stepped over the line with that website, though why should they have any less of a right to run a website than the Weekly World News, the Star, or even The Onion have to run a newspaper? The only difference is that this website is going to fool many more people.

(And actually, in Japan, there was a similar advertising campaign for Seaman when it came out for the Dreamcast. It had a biography of the man who discovered the mutant fish, and pictures of the fossil specimens he found, etc... it was very cool.)

In the end, I think it boils down to the classic quote from Voltaire:
"I may not agree with a word you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

[ Parent ]
Rewrite? (1.75 / 4) (#19)
by dead_radish on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 01:33:13 PM EST

I'd suggest focusing more on the broader issues, using the specific one as an anecdote. And point out other news hoaxes lately - the orange county register/bill gates thing, for instance. Artisan has a history of this (The original Blair Witch), and will probably love it however this comes out. Personally, the concept of a sequel to Blair Witch makes me turn off the tv whenever the commercials come on. And this article makes me think more about that than about the general issues of honesty and trust on the web.
I knew I shoulda brought a crossbow. -- Largo. www.megatokyo.com
Only harm here is to Burkittsville, MD (4.00 / 5) (#20)
by Ricdude on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 02:58:19 PM EST

On Burkitsville:

The only source of accurate news concerning Burkittsville, Maryland is The Witches of Burkittsville. This is a *small* town, as in population around 200, IIRC. Their bait and tackle shop is going to have a web site? Not to mention an ad button on actionnewssix.com? Not to mention that there is *no* channel 6 anywhere in the greater DC/Baltimore/No.Virginia metro area, let alone the thriving metropolis of Burkittsville.

On the alleged Blair Witch:

As a Maryland resident, I have to laugh at the whole Blair Witch "mythos". It's *so* easy to poke holes in it (being a resident in the area helps). I feel sorry for the residents of Burkittsville who have had to suffer with the vandalism, and more "tourist" traffic than their town could ever dream of handling.

On actionnewssix.com:

Since all the news on the site seems to concern Burkittsville, except the school closing page, which references both Frederick and Montgomery County schools, I find it hard to imagine someone worried about an alleged series of murders in a park "near where [they] work" without being *fully* aware of the truth behind the Blair Witch Project. I.e. that there is none. I think the people who voted for this story were successfully hoaxed.

On hoaxing:

The beauty of the internet is that everyone has a voice. The horror of the internet is that everyone has a voice. How do you pick what you choose to believe from the ocean of voices out there is up to you. I start by filtering out what doesn't have a chance of affecting your daily life. Believe what you want, but be a little pickier about what beliefs (or news stories) you choose to defend without verifying sources or at least cross-checking with more trustworthy sources. Browsing AFU + Urban Legends Archives also helps filter out a lot of the noise from underground/anonymous news sources.

It is still entertainment... (2.25 / 4) (#22)
by eskimo on Fri Oct 20, 2000 at 06:43:08 PM EST

As somebody a little lighter on the tech side of the internet, but very interested in the entertainment side (producing and participating), I think that unless you are at a supposedly reputable news source, you should consider the internet a form of entertainment.

Certainly movies have to explain they are fiction, but this is usually right before the Panaflex logo, right after the caterer. If there were a prologue before every movie I saw telling me that this was fabricated by an armada of writers, I'd read even more.

I remember when I first stumbled onto the BW site, and I promptly googled (or more likely Altavista'd) the whole area to death. And there was nothing about a witch anywhere but the BW site. That is the beauty of this whole internet thing. You can check this stuff out for yourself. And then learn even more. Apparently there is a hill in Burkittsville that objects appear to roll up. Now that is cool.

As for somehow damaging the city, or readers, or people...that is absurd. The people are fake. The readers are sheep and unless recently fleeced by somebody else for their $7.50, they have their immense woolly bodies to protect them (except from fire...). And a city is just a city. Miami is full of drugs, New York is full of cops, LA is full of movie stars, and Burkittsville is full of ghosts.

I am my own home. - Banana Yoshimoto

Wrong site... (2.40 / 5) (#23)
by B'Trey on Sat Oct 21, 2000 at 01:36:16 PM EST

Don't trolls, even ones of relatively high quality, belong on the OTHER site?

This article is a hoax!!! (4.62 / 8) (#24)
by Majamba on Sun Oct 22, 2000 at 06:25:34 AM EST

Think about it:

  • This is the first post of mwalker. He didnít write a singe comment before.
  • Actionsixnews.com canít be found on any search engine (How did he find it?).
  • Artisan is well known for using the web for advertising
  • I think this article was written on the single purpose to start the marketing for BWP2. I'm quite sure they wrote some of the comments and maybe they are manipulating the rating too.

    A real news issue to ponder... (3.33 / 3) (#25)
    by Miniluv on Mon Oct 23, 2000 at 06:55:00 AM EST

    Hoax sites have always happened, and will always happen. What's truly scary is what people like Bruce Schneier are afraid of, and Kevin Poulsen has seen happen. The ability to crack a newssite and insert seemingly accurate information into the public mainstream is truly frightening. We trust places like cnn, the major networks, the industry standard, etc to be full of accurate news. Information security keeps becoming more and more important, yet legitimate media keeps playing it off in the wrong light. Individual "hackers" are not so much the issue, and neither are stolen ATM cards. Poor information practices at the corporate level are going to lead to more and more serious breachehs of security, and ultimately put people into situations where lives may in fact be lost.

    Sounds a little alarmist eh? Everything these days is computer controlled..and plenty of those computer controlled systems carry the ability to end lives indiscriminately. I'm not even talking about nuclear reactors, hospital systems, or the air traffic control network, though they are all risks. How about the production line at a Ford plant? If I alter the instructions just a little bit a critical weld can be weakened, leading to increased risk of all sorts of nasty things in the event of a crash. Or how about at a food processing plant? Maybe pour a little too much of substance A into food product B and poison everyone who eats the next 5K units produced?

    I don't claim to have a solution, but if we get enough people cranking in serious, earnest effort, maybe someone will.
    "Its like someone opened my mouth and stuck a fistful of herbs in it." - Tamio Kageyama, Iron Chef 'Battle Eggplant'

    Information corruption. (4.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Merekat on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 06:37:35 AM EST

    "The ability to crack a newssite and insert seemingly accurate information into the public mainstream is truly frightening."

    This idea is really fascinating. There is a short story by Jorge Luis Borges called Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius which deal with the mixing of real and fictional information in such a way that people are no longer certain what is real and what is not. Detailed information about the geography and customs of the nation of Uqbar are inserted into a reputable encycopedia and elsewhere until it becomes commonly accepted, and effectively real.
    I've always had the greatest respect for other peoples crack-pot beliefs.
    - Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show
    [ Parent ]

    Horseshit. (none / 0) (#27)
    by mcornick on Tue Oct 24, 2000 at 05:14:19 PM EST

    Burkittsville, Maryland, while a real place, is not sufficiently large to have even a UHF TV station, much less a VHF station (2-13 = VHF; 14+ = UHF; VHF stations were traditionally put in the larger cities.) There isn't even a channel 6 in either of the two nearest large cities, Washington (which has 4, 5, 7 and 9 plus several UHF) and Baltimore (2, 11, 13 and several UHF.) Anyone who lives "near" this "park" and watches TV, much less looks to a TV "web site" for "news", would know that.

    I sez you've been had.

    BTW, the people in Burkittsville would like you to stop driving through and stealing things. Thanks.

    Artisan Entertainment creates fake News Site | 28 comments (22 topical, 6 editorial, 0 hidden)
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