The 'malicious' Fox News hackers who claimed Obama was dead

Followers of Fox News' political Twitter feed started their Fourth with a shock: Six tweets reporting the fake news that President Obama was assassinated. How did this happen?  

The Fox News politics Twitter feed has deleted these hacker-produced tweets, which falsely announced Monday that President Obama had been assassinated.
(Image credit: Fox News Twitter)

At about 2 a.m. on the Fourth of July, the Fox News politics Twitter feed announced the shocking "news" that President Obama was dead after being shot twice at an Iowa restaurant, and wished "the best of luck" to President Joe Biden. (Obama spent the weekend at Camp David and the White House.) Fox News confirmed that its account had been hacked, and expressed regret for any distress caused by the "malicious and false tweets," which stayed live until about noon on Independence Day. The Secret Service is looking into the incident. How did this happen at a major news organization, and why? Here, a brief guide:

Who are these "malicious" hackers?

A group calling itself the Script Kiddies claimed responsibility for the hack, both through its own Twitter account and in an interview with an editor at SUNY Stony Brook's student-run magazine Think. ("'Script kiddies' is a pejorative term for wannabe hackers," explains Max Read at Gawker. "I guess they're trying to reclaim it?") A purported member of the Script Kiddies told Think's Adam Peck that the group was "close in relation" to Anonymous, the more famous group of "hactivists."

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

What was the point of this stunt?

The Script Kiddies say hacking Fox is part of the Anonymous-linked "AntiSec," or anti-security, campaign to unearth and publish government and corporate secrets. But there seems to be an element of self-promotion, too. In the two hours before the Obama tweets, the Script Kiddies brazenly replaced the Fox logo with their own, and reached out to Anonymous — with little effect. When that failed to draw much attention, says Matt Brian at The Next Web, the hackers apparently followed the advice of someone at hacker site 4chan: "If you had tweeted some fake news (i.e. Fox News sources say Obama died of a heart attack this evening), it would have had a bigger impact. Just saying."

Why pick on Fox News?

The Script Kiddies source told Think's Adam Peck that Fox News "was selected because we figured their security would be just as much of a joke as their reporting." But Peck says his impression is that targeting Fox has "less to do with their politics as it does with the fact that they represent corporate America." Whatever the reason, tweeting fake news of Obama's assassination was "even more provocative because Fox News is widely perceived to be a voice of opposition to the Obama administration," say Liz Robbins and Brian Stelter in The New York Times.

How did the hackers gain access to Fox News' Twitter feed?

It's unclear. Twitter blamed security lapses at Fox News, suggesting that hackers had taken control of the Fox email account associated with the hacked feed. Fox News said it is "requesting a detailed investigation from Twitter about how this occurred, and measures to prevent future unauthorized access into accounts."

Can we learn anything from this episode?

Yes, don't rely on Twitter for your news, says Robin Marty at Care2. That's a good policy, agrees Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun-Times. But it's more a reminder that when you read breaking news distributed through Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media site, "you're literally clicks away from being able to check it out from multiple other sources." Some people were inevitably "duped by the tweets," Roeper says, but as "talented as these rogue groups are, they can’t hack the entire Internet."

Sources: Care2, Chicago Sun-Times, CNN, Gawker, New York Times, The Next Web, Slate, Think

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.