Thursday, March 16, 2006

Prankster's Hoax goes haywire

Tim Longhurst - Richard Neville tries his hand as PM's speech writer

The above link chronicles the aftermath of publication last week of an alleged speech by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. It was actually authored by that good old "Oz" prankster, Richard Neville - a dab hand with satire which he frequently posts on the web. I first received it from Op Ed News, who also publish other satire amongst their genuine body of opinion.

In this case, the article wasn't clearly marked as satire and was subsequently interpreted as fact by many - including, one suspects, most search engines. Then things went awry as Richarc explains in an email today ...


It's funny; I'm about as much threat to the state as smelly socks. And yet something happened at 8pm on Tuesday night, Sydney time, that gave me the shivers. Maybe it's a technical problem, I kept telling myself, which is why I've waited 36 hours before making it public.

As most of you who received my email on Monday now realise, JOHN HOWARD'S APOLOGY was an act of satire and culture jamming. Its impact was way beyond expectation, as was the variation in feedback. Many of you wanted to believe in John Howard's U-turn, and said he "stood taller" after the speech. Others replied he had "sniffed the wind" and was cutting his cloth to ensure his political survival. It made them hate the PM even more. A seasoned activist emailed from London, "this speech proves John Howard is smarter than TonyBlair".

To heighten its impact, I asked a student to design a site that closely resembled the official page of the Australian Prime Minister, as well as his personality - ­ oodles of grey. For $9.71, I purchased a web-hosting package from Yahoo, which included domain name registration. Was I wrong to indulge in this undergraduate jape? My previous email reported, "A friend just sent me this link, but I can't believe it!. Well, when the site went up, the designer sent me the link and I couldn't believe how good it looked. Satire is intellectual slum clearance. It works best if people are sucked in for awhile. I left a trail of clues. is registered in my name, easily accessed. The embedded links were a give-away. Lotsa typos.

In the first 24 hours, the site received 10,500 visits, thanks to many of you. Then it was blocked, and remains so. I didn't realise this until I opened my emails yesterday morning. Complaints of a "dead link" were building up. received similar reports and asked if I had heard from the PM's office. Not a peep. At first I put itdown to local area tech probs, but over the day the site started to disappear, server by server, like watching the lights go out all over Europe. Urgent emails to Yahoo have remained unanswered for 36 hours. What's the alleged crime? Will the spooks knock at the door? During the debate on Australia's draconian "anti terror" laws, the PM kept assuring us all that free speech would never be endangered. Sure. A .pdf of the disappeared page has been posted on - let's see how longit lasts.

This is the direct link:

Several questions remain:
1) who ordered the closing of the site?
2) On whatgrounds?
3) By what authority?
4) Through what mechanism?
5) Why in secret?
6) Will I get a refund from Yahoo?

If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone!"

On a personal note, my own ISP is in partnership with Yahoo and although they don't host any of my websites, I have frequently suspected censorship of certain destinations and interference with my Yahoo webmail account. It's hard to prove, but one casualty may be my own Chinese routing address ( - a top level server but located within the "Great Firewall". I can no longer access it myself - weird that!

An interesting item from yesterday's CBS news asks just "How Free Will The Internet Now Be?" as Yahoo, like AOL, have plans of conquest, monopolisation and domination. Google continue to oppose the dark forces, but for how long?


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