The Onion makes a living by blurring the lines between the real and the fictional, so much so that the site's satire is often mistaken for real news.
On Monday, that line became even murkier as Syrian hackers apparently took control of The Onion's social media accounts, parodying the site's satirical tone with puzzling statements about the Syrian civil war and the international response it has engendered.
"UN retracts report of Syrian chemical weapon use: 'Lab tests confirm it is Jihadi body odor,'" read one tweet, since deleted. "Syrian Electronic Army was here," read another message, which was posted to several of The Onion's Twitter accounts.
The SAE — a nebulous group of hackers that backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — has claimed responsibility for hacking a number of Western media groups in recent weeks, including NPR, the BBC, and the Associated Press. In the most extreme case, the SAE sent stocks tumbling with a fake tweet from the AP's account that claimed President Obama had been wounded in an attack on the White House.
(You can read more about the Syrian Electronic Army and its motives here.)
Yet while the Syrian Electronic Army undoubtedly hacked those accounts, it was at first unclear if The Onion was the group's latest target, or if the site was just playing an elaborate prank. Given that satire is The Onion's bread and butter, there was initially some suspicion that the "hack" was really an inside joke. As Stefan Becket at New York wrote:
So in this game of satire and cyber-warfare, who can we believe?
In addition to the tweets claiming responsibility for the hacks — which, as The Huffington Post notes, went out on at least one account that had been dormant for months — the SAE appeared to take credit elsewhere on the web. According to E Hacking News, one of the alleged hackers posted a screenshot that showed him/her in control of an Onion Twitter feed.
The tweets in question have all since been deleted, too, indicating that The Onion removed them after regaining control of its accounts. And the site, known for its quick turnarounds on major news items, was even making light of the hack — or, perhaps, perpetuating the joke — in a couple of articles and tweets Monday afternoon.
"After hacking into The Onion's Twitter account earlier today, members of the Syrian Electronic Army confirmed that the organization simply wanted to have a little fun before soon dying at the hands of rebel forces," an article posted Monday night read. "Onion Password Changed To OnionMan77," read the headline of another post.