16 Mar 2006, Comments Off on The case of the Disappearing PM’s Apology

The case of the Disappearing PM’s Apology

Author: Helen

Did anyone get an email containing a link to “the PM’s apology” the other day? It wasn’t so much an apology as a change-of-heart speech– it didn’t contain the S word, but it had such passages as:

I speak to you here openly, and with sadness. I have no intention of repeating or elaborating these remarks outside this room. For decades, many of you have stayed loyal the principles of our Party. However, it is not wise for any leader to mislead himself, and I have no wish to mislead you. Like our good friend Tony Blair, I too admit to episodes of anguish. I
worry the situation is getting worse. Not only in Iraq, but elsewhere in the world. You will of course be making up your own minds as you watch the news in the coming weeks.

If you thought that language a little mellifluous for our PM, you’d have been right. The web site was a hoax. And it has now been taken down by persons unknown. There is a PDF version of it here.

Richard Neville, the origin of the hoax, writes:

It’s funny; I’m about as much threat to the state as smelly socks.

And yet something happened at 8pm on Tuesday night, Sydney time, that gave me the shivers. Maybe it’s a technical problem, I kept telling myself, which is why I’ve waited 36 hours before making it public.

As most of you who received my email on Monday now realise, JOHN HOWARD’S APOLOGY was an act of satire and culture jamming. Its impact was way beyond expectation, as was the variation in feedback. Many of you wanted to believe in John Howard’s U-turn, and said he “stood taller” after the speech. Others replied he had “sniffed the wind” and was cutting his cloth to ensure his political survival. It made them hate the PM even more. A seasoned activist emailed from London, “this speech proves John Howard is smarter than Tony Blair”. To heighten its impact, I asked a student to design a site that closely resembled the official page of the Australian Prime Minister, as well as his personality – oodles of grey.

For $9.71, I purchased a web-hosting package from Yahoo, which included domain name registration.

Was I wrong to indulge in this undergraduate jape? My previous email reported, “A friend just sent me this link, but I can’t believe it”. Well, when the site went up, the designer sent me the link and I couldn’t believe how good it looked.

Satire is intellectual slum clearance. It works best if people are sucked in … for awhile. I left a trail of clues. Johnhowardpm.org is registered in my name, easily accessed. The embedded links were a give-away. Lotsa typos.

In the first 24 hours, the site received 10,500 visits, thanks to many of you. Then it was blocked, and remains so.

I didn’t realise this until I opened my emails yesterday morning. Complaints of a “dead link” were building up. Crikey.com received similar reports and asked if I had heard from the PM’s office. Not a peep. At first I put it down to local area tech probs, but over the day the site started to disappear, server by server, like watching the lights go out all over Europe. Urgent emails to Yahoo have remained unanswered for 36 hours. For further stats and background see http://www.timlonghurst.com.

What’s the alleged crime? Will the spooks knock at the door? During the debate on Australia’s draconian “anti terror” laws, the PM kept assuring us all that free speech would never be endangered. Sure. A .pdf of the disappeared page has been posted on richardneville.com – let’s see how long it lasts. This is the direct link:

Several questions remain: 1) who ordered the closing of the site? 2) On what grounds? 3) By what authority? 4) Through what mechanism? 5) Why in secret? 6) Will I get a refund from Yahoo?

If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone, Best Wishes, RN

This incident, in my mind, only raised more questions. This certainly has happened before – the spoof versions of the Huffington Post and Tim Blair’s site (a protest against Andrea Harris’s excessive banning of comments) for instance.

It’s certainly good to put one over the powerful. But how would I feel if someone put up an exact simulacrum of the Cast Iron Balcony with links to stormfront.org or glowing endorsements of Intelligent Design or Tony Abbott? Pretty pissed off, I’d imagine.

To what extent are these things identity theft, and to what extent are they merely satire? Richard put deliberate typos in the linked pages to alert the net savvy. But what about people who take these things literally – and as you can see, there were quite a few? what if a right-wing group used this kind of thing as a “call to arms”?

The other side of it, though, is the chilling description of “… the site …disappear[ing], server by server, like watching the lights go out all over Europe.” Back up your blog.

Comments (0)

  • R.H. says:

    Richard Neville will always be an undergraduate.

    He’s never progressed.

  • Laura says:

    That was more or less my first thought too, RH. Along with feeling left out for not getting the fabled email.

    I can’t get terribly worked up over this – elcheapo hosting from Yahoo might not be the best base from which to fight da powerz. I’m sure most of us could think of plenty of ways to prevent a similar pulling of hte plug, beginning with a string of mirrors.

  • brownie says:

    aussie bob plain dealer’s blog has been completely stolen by hackers who have changed his Links to ones for Prawnographic sites.
    If you link to it, you should delete the link from your template.

  • TimT says:

    Why would a right wing group use it as a call to arms?

  • Helen says:

    If a site was spoofed making a group they didn’t like seem more extreme, for instance.

    Like spoofing the site of the **** **** **** (insert name of activist environmental group) and putting things on there to make it look like they’re planning a violent and horrible attack on neighbouring timber towns. Then letting all the bruthas know via web forums, etc.

    On a less nasty level, it could just spread disinformation about anything they didn’t like to all and sundry. Bearing in mind I’m talking about right wing groups like the ones Orcinus and Darp write about – their following are young, credulous and don’t check Snopes that often.

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