New York Times Falls For That Fake North Korea Twitter Account

Illustration for article titled iNew York Times/i Falls For That Fake North Korea Twitter Account

North Korea launched its first ICBM yesterday, putting the world on the brink of nuclear war. But in the rush to get news printed, some journalists were a bit sloppy. The New York Times mistook a tweet from the North Korea parody account DPRK_News as real. And this isn’t the first time news outlets have been suckered by “news” from this Twitter account.

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The New York Times story was first published on Tuesday and updated to include this:

On Wednesday morning, [Kim Jong-un] taunted the United States, saying the launch was a Fourth of July “gift” to the Trump administration.

“We should send them gifts once in a while to help break their boredom,” he said, according to the North Korean state-run news agency. On Twitter early Wednesday, the North Korean government belittled the joint exercise as “demonstrating near total ignorance of ballistic science.”

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The reporters apparently saw this tweet from the parody account, which shows a GIF of US and South Korean missile tests at an undisclosed location in South Korea, not unlike the ones that happened earlier today.

The New York Times had to issue a correction:

Correction: July 4, 2017

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article attributed incorrectly a Twitter statement to the North Korean government. The North Korean government did not belittle a joint American-South Korean military exercise as “demonstrating near total ignorance of ballistic science,” that statement was from the DPRK News Service, a parody Twitter account.

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The account has been run for years by two anonymous authors associated with attorney Ken White, known online as Popehat. Gizmodo even reported on it being fake in January of 2015 in a post that got this blogger blocked from following the account.

But this is far from the first time that some respectable news outlets have been taken in. Newsweek, the Washington Post, Reuters, HuffPost, the Verge, and Buzzfeed have all been tricked by the account.

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It was an embarrassing mistake for a major news outlet like the New York Times, but understandable since the account isn’t that funny. (Calling it not funny is precisely what got me blocked, by the way.) As I’ve pointed out before, Kim Jong-un’s absurd and over-the-top pronouncements are just that, absurd and over-the-top. So when a Twitter account is maybe just 5 percent more absurd it’s not exactly a great parody.

But the account has been around long enough that there’s really no excuse anymore. If you’re going to use Twitter as a source, you should know what the dependable sources of news are. Whether you think it’s funny or not, DPRK_News is totally fake.

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Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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DISCUSSION

I absolutely will lay all sorts of blame for the erosion of public trust in the media at the feet of Trump and Co. and really the greater conservative movement over the last 30 years, but we also need to reserve some of our bile at the media itself.

If we’re in the middle of a ‘fake news crisis’ as some say, its partially the fault of media companies (and yes, the rank and file journalists that work for them) that have created a situation where fake news is largely indistinguishable from the real deal. Some fake items are so clearly fake, but there are plenty that really the only thing keeping them from being real are the complete absence of facts. But its hard to argue to people that they need to be more discriminating in what they believe and wait for hard evidence when there is a lot of supposedly legit journalism that does the same shit. They rely heavily on unnamed sources making earth shattering claims and there is not one other shred of corroborating evidence for those claims. Yet they get passed around as irrevocably true. And no doubt, most of them probably are true, but we’ve seen far too many stories fall apart because those unnamed sources proved to be full of bullshit. Which makes it all the easier to dismiss other stories that might really be legit. Because you’ve always got that ‘what if’ dangling over their heads. What if, it comes out that the source was bullshit? What if counter-evidence comes to light?

And of course, this is largely because we’ve got a news media that is scoop-happy. They all want to be Woodward and Bernstein, but they don’t want to actually put in the work they did and exercise the patience that Woodward and Bernstein had. Because, hey, I’ve got a deadline in 30 minutes and if I don’t get it out before everyone else, then some rival will get the scoop.