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Features Posted March 25, 1999
Covering Shadows:
The Media's Unraveling of Two Important Hacker Stories
By Matt Welch, OJR Staff Writer and Columnist

Print version

Related Stories:
Transatlantic Brawl!
Se7en Deadly Sins
Print and online news outlets alike are not immune from publishing inaccuracies -- or even out-and-out falsehoods -- about hackers, as we discover this week in two case studies.

Steve Silberman of Wired News, and Adam Penenberg of Forbes Digital Tool, two respected cyberjournalists, both fell for the story of "Christian Valor," a.k.a. "Se7en," the would-be hacker Robin Hood who lied for years about trashing the hard drives of online pedophiles. Silberman exposed Se7en's fraud (and the hacker admitted his mistake) Feb. 8, while Penenberg posted an apology and explanation on various hacker mailing lists.

But Silberman's story fell flat in the online media world, especially among the newspapers and Web sites that had written so gushingly -- and erroneously -- about Se7en during the past two years. None has issued a retraction as of posting time.

Meanwhile, several respected online news sites jumped down the throat of weekly U.K. newspaper Sunday Business, which broke a shocking story Feb. 28 about hackers altering the course of a British defense satellite and asking for money to not do it again.

The Web sites quickly denounced the story as wrong, but in the meantime, some published errors of their own. And the evidence they cited was not exactly exhaustive.

Both cases spotlight the difficulty of covering the mysterious world of hackers -- with its pseudonyms, wild claims and heavy mythical baggage. They both illuminate the very different ways that publications deal with their own mistakes. And they both show the decisive new role being played by people who would have never been called "journalists" three years ago.

... to Transatlantic Brawl!

What do you think? Tell us on the OJR Forums.

 


Matt Welch Matt Welch is an OJR Staff Writer and Columnist. His work is archived at mattwelch.com.


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Matt Welch Matt Welch is an OJR Staff Writer and Columnist. His work is archived at mattwelch.com.


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Copyright 1999 Online Journalism Review