Reuters reports that a hacker briefly seized control of the news agency’s technology news Twitter feed, @ReutersTech, on Sunday and used the account to post a stream of fabricated reports about Syria and the Middle East under the new handle @ReutersME.
The stunt appeared to be the second step in a campaign by supporters of President Bashar al-Assad to use the news agency’s Internet feeds to spread false information about the conflict in Syria. On Friday, Reuters was forced to temporarily shut down part of its Web site after the agency’s blogging platform was hacked and fabricated reports of setbacks for Syrian rebels were posted on Reuters.com.
Before the Twitter feed was taken offline, several bloggers managed to capture screenshots of the stream of fake news headlines posted on the social network. According to a cache of the updates on Topsy, which tracks Twitter use, 22 messages were posted on the short-lived @ReutersME feed.
An anonymous Dutch blogger who edits the @worldwidenieuws Twitter feed managed to capture images of 19 of the updates in three separate screenshots (click on the images to see larger versions of the captures).
Several of the updates posted on the hacked Reuters account, which claimed that rebels in the city of Aleppo had been routed and were planning a tactical retreat, closely echoed details of the fabricated reports posted on the agency’s blogs two days earlier. Other updates reiterated Syrian government claims that its forces are battling a foreign-led insurgency. The first update posted after the account was seized described the capture of a French spy in Aleppo; another read: “Turkey complains that one of its generals was captured in Aleppo, Erdogan heard shouting from his office.”
While most of the updates conveyed fictional reports of disarray in the rebel Free Syrian Army, several also tweaked the White House by pretending that a spokesman for the Obama administration had announced “financial and technical support given to Al Qaeda operatives in Syria.” The Syrian government has cast its opponents as radical Islamist terrorists since the first protesters took to the streets in March of last year.
The fictional reports of American support for Al Qaeda were accompanied by an update linking to the Web site InfoWars.com, which is run by a libertarian radio host in Texas who promotes the conspiracy theory that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks were carried out by the United States government. Several of the fictional updates seemed to be based on that premise.
One part of the elaborate fiction was an update reporting the fake news that President Obama had signed an “executive order banning any further investigation of 9/11.”
Since the start of the uprising, the Assad government has claimed to be fighting terrorists backed by an improbable alliance between Al Qaeda, the United States and Israel. What appears to have been the final update posted on the Twitter account before it was taken offline — “Reuters shareholders to hold meeting over Rothschild’s ‘iron grip’ over decision making process” — amplified that conspiracy theory by insinuating that the Reuters news agency itself was somehow a tool of Zionist plotters.