President Barack Obama is dead and Joe Biden has become president, according to false tweets posted on Fox News Politics' Twitter account early yesterday.
The embarrassing Independence Day tweets were the result of an account takeover. A previously unknown group calling itself "The Script Kiddies" hijacked the @foxnewspolitics Twitter account around midnight yesterday morning, then sent out this message at 2 a.m. EDT:
"@BarackObama has just passed. The President is dead. A sad 4th of July, indeed. President Barack Obama is dead".
That was followed by five more tweets elaborating upon the tragic events:
"@BarackObama has just passed. Nearly 45 minutes ago, he was shot twice in the lower pelvic area and in the neck; shooter unknown. Bled out".
"@BarackObama shot twice at a Ross' restaurant in Iowa while campaigning. RIP Obama, best regards to the Obama family".
"#ObamaDead, it's a sad 4th of July. RT to support the late president's family, and RIP. The shooter will be found".
"BREAKING NEWS: President @BarackObama assassinated, 2 gunshot wounds have proved too much. It's a sad 4th for #america. #obamadead RIP".
"We wish @joebiden the best of luck as our new President of the United States. In such a time of madness, there's light at the end of the tunnel".
("Script kiddie" is a common Internet pejorative for underskilled, overambitious hackers.)
Fake tweets from well-followed accounts are usually taken down quickly. But the faux Fox tweets stayed up until noon EDT, about the time the very much alive Obama was getting ready to greet service members and their families on the White House lawn.
The @foxnewspolitics Twitter account has more than 38,000 followers. Most of the " #obamadead " retweeters seemed to realize the story was fake.
"We will be requesting a detailed investigation from Twitter about how this occurred, and measures to prevent future unauthorized access into FoxNews.com accounts," Jeff Misenti, vice president and general manager of Fox News Digital, said in a statement shortly after the account was taken over.
It wasn't yet clear how The Script Kiddies took over the account, but the most likely scenario is that they simply figured out which FoxNews.com email account controlled it and then guessed the Twitter password.
They probably changed the password after gaining control, which would explain why it was 10 hours before Fox News took it back. The tweets regarding the fake assassination have since been deleted.
In an instant-message conversation with Adam Peck, a student and journalist at New York's Stony Brook University, the Script Kiddies claimed affiliation with the hacktivist group Anonymous and said they'd taken over the Fox News Politics Twitter feed "because we figured their security would be just as much of a joke as their reporting."
The Secret Service is said to be looking into the matter.
The entire incident is a reminder to all Internet users: Use strong passwords of at least six or more characters, intersperse lower- and uppercase letters, numbers and punctuation marks, and never use the same password twice for anything important.