The hackers who caused The Associated Press to incorrectly report last month that an “explosion” outside the White House injured President Barack Obama are spreading misinformation again, and this time Canadian pop icon Justin Bieber is their target.
“Exclusive: Justin Bieber to E! online: I’m a gay,” a Saturday afternoon post to E! Online’s Twitter account announced. “Angelina Jolie admits, in E! latest issue, that Jordan is to blame for the Syrian refugees’ atrocious conditions,” a follow-up added. “Exclusive: Selena Gomez tells E! she will fully supporting Justin in his coming out,” a third message read.
Instantly, thousands of Bieber fans on Twitter began re-sharing the posts and adding them to favorite lists, believing the E! Online short URLs attached to the tweets pointed to actual E! Online content. Instead, the short URLs pointed to sites hackers loaded up with malware.
It didn’t take long before the gig was up. “The Syrian Electronic Army was here!” a fourth post revealed nearly an hour after E! lost control of the account. “Fans of @justinbieber, you have been trolled by @Official_SEA12.”
The account was shut down shortly thereafter, but not before the hackers dumped all of the site’s followers. “This account @eonline was compromised and some incorrect information was sent out,” the company announced Saturday evening. “We’re working with Twitter now to fix this.”
The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), a pro-Assad group, has also compromised systems at the BBC, Reuters, “60 Minutes,” The Washington Post, NPR, Al Jazeera, The Guardian and numerous others. Their attacks generally start with a splash, designed to fool onlookers, and devolve into mindless propaganda for the blood-drenched regime. They’ve also been known to target activist groups like Human Rights Watch, but their main purpose appears to be combating negative media coverage of the Assad regime.
“What’s our cause?” the SEA website asks. “We are a group of enthusiastic Syrian youths who could not stay passive towards the massive distortion of facts about the recent uprising in Syria, and this distortion is carried out by many Facebook pages that deliberately work to spread hatred and sectarian intolerance between the peoples of Syria to fuel the uprising.”