The media hasn’t been as roughed up by Sandy as, say, the transportation industry. But with power failures and flooding, it can be hard to get a proper source on the line. And while Twitter may be a “truth machine,” fact-checking rumors in real-time, its constant flood of information is as unpredictable as the storm itself. That came into focus earlier this week when Shashank Tripathi was outed for spreading a false report about the New York Stock Exchange under the pseudonymous handle @comfortablysmug.
Well, add another troll to the list. Rather, an entire crew: the self-styled Gay N**ger Association of America (GNAA), an online activist group, behind the willfully misleading hashtag #sandylootcrew. False information and fake images of black looters tweeted under that hashtag were published by the Daily Mail, the Drudge Report and Infowars, which is exactly what the four core members of the GNAA wanted, Leon Kaiser, GNAA’s “interim president and head of public relations” told Betabeat by email.
“To sum it up, myself and a few members of the GNAA thought that it would be amusing to pretend to be looters,” said Mr. Kaiser, who claims to be a 19-year-old African-American male living in New Mexico. “One of us came up with the hashtag #SANDYLOOTCREW. We were making the most ridiculous tweets that we could think .. .people will believe literally anything, even us stealing cats.”
(Leon Kaiser is not his real name, he said, “but a combination of my middle and mother’s maiden name, respectively.” GNAA, which is affiliated with the hacker collective Goatse Security, is cagey after two of Goatse’s members–including Andrew Auernheimer, the grey hat hacker “weev”–were arrested in 2011 for revealing iPad users’ emails in order to expose an AT&T security hole. Mr. Auernheimer is the former president of GNAA. Mr. Kaiser insists no user information was released in the AT&T case. “A list of emails was only compiled for the purposes of proving to the media that the vulnerability existed,” he told Betabeat. “The list of emails was destroyed after that.” For its efforts, Goatse received a Crunchie award in Public Service from TechCrunch.)
As the New York Daily News reported Wednesday afternoon, there has been some looting in Coney Island in the wake of the hurricane. Reached by phone, an employee at Rent-a-Center on Mermaid Avenue confirmed reports of theft. Thursday afternoon, NYPD spokesperson Paul Browne responded to questions from Betabeat about the timeline of thefts with the following statement:
There were nine suspects, five of them women, arrested in the 60th Precinct in Coney Island Tuesday afternoon; four for burglary, four for possession of stolen property, and a fifth for criminal possession of a firearm. The suspects were caught in the act of either attempting to gain entry or leaving a closed store or in possession of its merchandise on or near Mermaid Avenue. Some were in possession of property taken from a dollar store, another was arrested after breaking into a Citibank branch but leaving empty-handed. A 29-year-old woman was charged with CPW after the safe she was caring from a store was found to contain a firearm. Tuesday night, police presence was stepped up along Mermaid Avenue and vicinity, and additional light towers were erected. There was no looting overnight Tuesday into Wednesday. However, early this morning just after midnight, police arrested 18 individuals for burglary of Key Food in Coney Island.
In the 101st Pct in Far Rockaway four arrests were made yesterday morning stemming from the entry of a closed Radio Shack on Beach Channel Drive where four women, ranging in age from 16 to 49, to include possible employees of the store, were charged with burglary.
But none of the GNAA’s photos represented crimes committed post-Sandy. In fact, the Sydney Morning Herald traced one of the images reprinted in the Daily Mail as far back as 2005.
The pictures of the woman with the mannequin and the man hugging the TV were posted on forums in 2005.
The boy with the shotgun was posted on a blog about Hurricane Frances in 2008 and the picture of the sign outside a house was found on a 2005 AP story about Hurricane Katrina.
GNAA’s biggest victory–insofar as trolling the public and possibly the police during a widespread emergency can be called a victory–seems to be the article in The Daily Mail, which fell for some of the more obvious satirical tweets from group members, most of whom didn’t even try to cover their tracks.
“We all had a good laugh when The Daily Mail picked up the story … I myself didn’t try to hide who I was, because I’ve found that I people don’t check who you are, they just take everything at face value,” wrote Leon, directing Betabeat to the GNAA’s Wikipedia page, adding. “We’re a trolling group all the way; we did this strictly to point out how easy it is to manipulate the media.”
Over email, Mr. Kaiser didn’t seem very concerned about possible backlash against the group for fanning the flames of looting hysteria, or for using incredibly offensive racial stereotypes in the name of teaching the media a lesson.
“I’m not worried,” he said. “I’ve gotten scores of death threats and whatnot for doing this, and I do this sort of thing a lot. They get old after a while. If anything were to fan the flames of looting, it’d be the irresponsible handling of this story by the media. Anyone who takes ‘NIGGA I JUST STOLE A CAT OUTTA SUM1S HOUSE GET ON MY LEVEL’ at face value probably shouldn’t be working in the news industry.”
Wonder what Councilman Peter Vallone will have to say about this!