If you were following the news on June 24, you might have been very excited indeed that we are not alone in the universe.
Apparently the hacktivist network Anonymous, committed to public good, had leaked secret information about an upcoming NASA announcement. So said The Independent of London, “The World’s Biggest Hacking Group Thinks NASA is About to Announce Alien Life”, promoting the breaking news via Twitter:
The world's biggest hacking group thinks Nasa is about to announce alien life https://t.co/uOgwrmf8i7
— The Independent (@Independent) June 24, 2017
The Daily Mail blared, “Hacker Collective Anonymous Releases Video Claiming That NASA is on the Verge of Announcing Alien Life”. In the Daily Mirror, it was “Hacktivist Group Says NASA Could Soon Reveal Alien Life”, while The Sun’s headline was “Close Encounter? Hacking Group Anonymous Claims NASA is About to Announce ‘Evidence of Alien Life'”.
Beyond Britain, Newsweek was a bit skeptical but still ran, “Anonymous Says NASA Has Evidence of Alien Life. Does it?” The Huffington Post followed the party line, “Hackers Claim NASA is About to Reveal They’ve Already Found Alien Life: ET is Already Here”.
Here’s the problem: the story about aliens is bogus. So are the website and YouTube account claiming to belong to Anonymous.
Tracing Fake News from The Web Through Russia
The source of the story is a video uploaded to the YouTube channel “Anonymous Global” on June 20.
While the video has gained almost 2.8 million views, a quick glance at the YouTube channel would raise red flags about the uploader. The most-prominently displayed video is a pro-Trump fan video that condemns the media for its criticism of the US President, not exactly the stance of Anonymous hacktivists. The “Anonymous” website linked in The Independent piece, anonews.co, offers a plethora of headlines more at home on the hard-right conspiracy outlet InfoWars than on a liberal hacktivist domain.
“New Alien Mummy Discovered in Peru Near Nazca Lines?”
“Watch Putin Explain How the Deep State Controls the U.S. Government”
“This is The ‘Persian Hulk’ Who Wants to Fight ISIS”
“Senate Bill to Force Citizens to Register Cash Not in a Bank, Violators Get 10 Years in Prison”
“Katy Perry Collapses As Mk-Ultra Mind Control Breakdown Goes Viral”
“Vladimir Putin Warns US — Russia Nuclear War Would Leave No Survivors”
Another video from the “Anonymous Global” YouTube channel — now removed, but with a script reprinted on the right-wing TruthFeed — assures you that Donald Trump is innocent of any collusion with Russia and that its members are sick of how badly the media has treated its beloved President:
By now anyone who actually believes that President Trump colluded with Russia to steal the 2016 election is delusional….The narrative has been disproven and has wasted time and money, all in the pursuit of a fantasy story that is continuously pushed by the fake news media.
It seems that liberals are slowly starting to realize that their ridiculous obsession with Russia is starting to anger Americans and some as slowly beginning to acknowledge that it was fake news all along. The lying fake news media and Democrat officials who have relentlessly pushed lies about President trump should be held accountable for the impact their agenda has had in America.
Unsurprisingly, the story of the “Alien Life” video was promoted by the Kremlin’s outlet RT before making it into the British tabloids the next day.
The Fake is Out There
RT’s sanctioning of the video as news spared those tabloids the need to carry out any basic fact-checking. The Alien Life video is just a collection of excerpts from an article on the Croatian-registered website “Ancient Code”. That piece misrepresented comments made by Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, in a public hearing of the House Committee on Science and Technology.
On June 26, Zurbuchen tried to stem the fake news tide through a tweet:
Contrary to some reports, there’s no pending announcement from NASA regarding extraterrestrial life.
— Thomas Zurbuchen (@Dr_ThomasZ) June 26, 2017
Zurchen’s denial had some effect. Space.com reported, “No, NASA Hasn’t Found Alien Life”, although it still mistakenly believed that the real Anonymous had put out the original false claim. The Daily Mail took a step back while still not recognizing the initial hoax, “NASA says it HASN’T found alien life following video claims by hacker group Anonymous”. The Independent hedged, “NASA Speaks Out Over ‘Anonymous’ Video Claiming It is About to Reveal Alien Discovery”.
But neither the Daily Mail nor The Independent removed their first, erroneous articles. Nor has (unsurprisingly) RT. Nor has The Independent, The Daily Mirror, The Sun, Newsweek, or The Huffington Post.
The fake — be it from hoaxers, pro-Trump activists, Russian State outlets, or quick-to-publish, never-to-retract sites — is now always out there.
Patrick Hilsman is a New York-based journalist covering the Middle East and North Africa with a focus on the Syrian conflict, international weapons traffic, and refugee rights. Hilsman has written for numerous outlets and appeared on BBC World, MSNBC, and Huffington Post Live. He has written extensively on state-funded propaganda, fake news, and cyber attacks, and has also covered cases of police misconduct in New York and racism in US politics.