Posting a fake story on a reputable news source's Twitter feed can lead to momentary public panic, but what happens when you post real grievances to a fake news feed? Earlier today, readers of satirical news source The Onion began seeing strange tweets and Facebook messages on various social media accounts. "UN's Ban Ki Moon condemns Syria for being struck by israel: 'It was in the way of Jewish missiles,'" read one. "BREAKING: #TheOnion readership mass confusion as Syrian Electronic Army takes over. All demand a permanent column," said another. Most included links with the shortened Onion format, but none led to real articles.
Hacks are usually easy to identify, but as the tweets unfolded over the course of an hour, it was hard to tell whether this was an actual Syrian Electronic Army attack or a meta-joke by The Onion itself. High-profile Twitter hacks have become commonplace enough that they've entered the site's cultural landscape, as have endless guessing games about whether a given tweet is real or the work of hackers. Back in February, the managers of MTV and BET's Twitter feeds pretended to hack each other's accounts, briefly changing them to "Hacked MTV" and "BET Hacked" before coming clean. In this light, it's easy to read The Onion's tweets as a strange meta-exercise: a site known for satirical news pretends to be a group of fairly serious hacktivists by posting less-funny versions of its usual fake tweets.
In the end, that doesn't seem to have been the case. While neither The Onion nor Twitter responded to requests for comment, the offending tweets were soon removed, suggesting a real hack. Not long after, The Onion posted its own take on the situation:
Onion Twitter Password Changed To OnionMan77 | 'That Ought To Do It,' Company Sources Confirm onion.com/10CAZYc— The Onion (@TheOnion) May 6, 2013
Soon after, another article went up, this one titled "Syrian Electronic Army Has A Little Fun Before Inevitable Upcoming Deaths At Hands Of Rebels." Both pieces credit the Syrian Electronic Army with hacking The Onion's Twitter feed, then proceed to detail password changes or the hackers' impending deaths. "We figured that before they bust in here and execute every single one of us, we might as well have a good time and post some silly tweets about Israel from a major media outlet's feed," The Onion quotes a "spokesperson" from the SEA as saying. A full Storify of the tweets can be found here — assuming, of course, that neither The Onion nor the SEA have some final act in the works.