But I read it on the Internet…

Last Friday morning, I woke up to a flood of emails, tweets, and text messages asking, basically, what the heck I was trying to pull with my fake news story. More than a little confused, I started digging around. What I found was both interesting and disconcerting.

It seems that the night before, Portland developer Aaron Parecki had used a service called SHRTURL to spoof a Silicon Florist post.

Last night around 11pm, I posted a link to the above story on Twitter, Facebook, and on my own site with the caption “Chirpify acquires Urban Airship”.

The note contained a bit.ly link which redirected to a shrturl.co link which then displayed the article.

This article, however, never actually appeared on Silicon Florist at all. Instead, I created it with shrturl.co, a site which lets you create spoof versions of any web page.

Shrturl does a surprisingly thorough job of cloning the original site, the headers, footer and styling are copied verbatim. It then allows you to click on any text on the page and replace it with your own. Saving your changes gives you a shrturl.co and a bit.ly link to share.

The copy is so convincing that the only way to tell it is not a legitimate article is by looking at the URL. (That, and I assumed that since the real version of this article came out only a day before, people would have recognized the headline and story.)

A bunch of folks saw the post. Trusted what they saw was truly Silicon Florist. Saw that I had the byline. And rightly started barraging me with messages. And left a few comments. Which—due to the way the code was grifted—wound up on the original post. After wading through a day’s worth of messages, I asked Aaron if he might write something up on the situation.

You see, it turns out, Silicon Florist is one of many to suffer from this sort of thing. Including TechCrunch. And it also turns out that visual clues and social media shares often carry more weight than I assumed. Or maybe it’s just that Aaron managed to copy my crappy writing style with such precision.

In any case, Here’s where we stand: 1) I’m not an ass making up stories about acquisitions. (For the record, I am still an ass. Just not for that reason.) 2) This little prank has hit upon one very important reason for why browsers should think twice about abandoning visible URLs for the pages they serve.

My apologies for any confusion this might have caused.

  1. Well done, Aaron. Very well done. Visible URLs are important.

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