As the country celebrated the 4th of July with a long weekend, disturbing tweets began appearing from Fox News. The first: “@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead. A sad 4th of July, indeed. President Barack Obama is dead.” No one was more surprised, presumably, than President Barack Obama himself. As Independence Day continued, “Fox News” tweeted new details, including that President Obama was killed while campaigning in Iowa, that he was shot in the pelvis and neck. The tweets even congratulated “President Joe Biden” on the promotion. The incident, which is under investigation by the Secret Service, highlights a very dark side of social media.
As the Christian Science Monitor notes, “The incident is a cautionary tale about how online mischief-makers are using social media as an important tool to spread misinformation [as was the case with the false Obama tweets] or even gain access to personal computers.” The easy access to social media and the ability to participate in it is its greatest strength, and it is also its most vulnerable spot. Fox News Digital vice president and general manager Jeff Misenti, said, “The network was not in control of the account once it was hacked…” Fox staffers had to sit by, reading each new tweet, because Twitter was not responding.
This is not the first time something of this nature has occurred. Recently, McDonald’s appeared to have posted a message reading, “As an insurance measure, due in part of a recent string of robberies, African-American customers are now required to pay an additional fee of $1.50 per transaction.” PayPal was also targeted as hackers posted angry rants from its Twitter account.
Rich Mogull, analyst at Securosis, advises, “If you are large enough, talk to your provider ahead of time to understand how to report a problem, and who to report it to.” Make sure you have a contact and validation process in place so you can streamline the process should your account be hacked.
Sophos advisor Chester Wisniewski advises companies to be vigilant with their password policies. If you can restrict it to one person, do so, and make sure you avoid passwords that are easy to guess (1234, qwerty).