How a fake website for a fake company took the internet for a short and wild ride.
Earlier this week, an investigative report from the Associated Press came out about the FBI using fake shell companies as fronts for its unmarked surveillance planes. One of these shell companies was "FVX Research." A prankster created a website and Twitter account for FVX Research and immediately began denying the news reports to an absurd degree. Some folks were convinced it was the government attempting to cover its tracks. A person with control of the website and Twitter account contacted Motherboard and offered to explain his motives. "Robert Hastings" is a pseudonym, and we have not verified any part of his story other than his ability to update the FVXResearch.com site and Twitter account.
I live in San Francisco, California. I own many domains, develop websites, am well-versed in film and photography as well as digital media production, have an SEO and analytics business, and am 100 percent very much a full time tech-web geek.
I've worked in corporate most of my career, and manage a handful of both online and offline industry related startups. My educational background is in engineering and computer science.
Earlier this week, news broke that the FBI has been flying unmarked surveillance planes over major US cities. These planes were registered to fake companies, including "FVX Research." Soon after the report, FVXResearch.com and a Twitter account, @FVXResearch, appeared and began denying the news reports. Reddit went crazy.
Sorry to disappoint, folks, but the FBI didn't make a site and Twitter account for one of its shell companies. In fact, the government had nothing to do with it.
Once in a while a great opportunity arises for me to conduct what I call social experiments. I remain anonymous online throughout various social accounts, so no, I am not the user "Pixelbat" and am not "karma whoring." (However, I do tip my hat to that individual as they did some great presentation, research, and delivery of my latest social experiment.) Some of these experiments made it on national news, television shows, social networks, and many have failed to go anywhere at all.
The purpose and intent of this social experiment was to see how quickly (or if at all) a website with a demo template created in no more than an hour's worth of effort could travel the globe socially due to being unofficially "associated" with a niche, related keyword.
Not everything you see or read online is true
In less than six hours my website was on the front page of Reddit (posted in r/Technology and later on r/Conspiracy). No more than 24 hours later the site had 200,000+ views on the website Imgur, after a member by the handle of "Pixelbat" on both networks cleverly pulled apart the website, illustrating each reveal of journalistic evidence with uploaded screen captures.
I made both the Wordpress and Twitter account passwords "simple" in terms of strength, and soon enough after going viral, the website was hacked with a giant photo of Kim Dotcom and the logo of his file hosting service "Mega," and a video from Deadmau5's YouTube account titled "get rekt salamanders." Later the text "\\CDMA SQUAD//" appeared on the hacked homepage. I let it play out for further analysis prior to restoring order.
Hysteria, paranoia, and conspiracy reactions ensued. People thought they blew the lid wide open on some big secret. Rumors began to feed off of other rumors and came along a whole new line of varying conspiracies. I was amazed that no one bothered to check the date of when the website was registered. It would have been obvious in noticing the domain was only created on June 2, 2015, on the day of the Associated Press publishing its piece about the FBI shell companies.
Slowly the audience caught on and labeled it a "hoax." A Reddit moderator gave it a labeling of "Potentially Misleading" (although I'm sure after this article is published, it will belong to /r/Conspiratards). Even after having the experiment publicly called out, some people still want to believe.
As a hardcore nearly 24/7 online addict, I've learned to adopt the importance of reasoning from first principles rather than analogy. We can all learn from this. Not everything you see or read online is true. Do your research and use appropriate cognitive judgement. If things don't seem right, there is a good chance they simply are not.
Addressing the FBI spy planes—well, who's really surprised by this? We live in a thriving digital world, and there has to be methods in place to police it when and if necessary. Nearly all of our tech gadgets have a MAC address and connect through an IP for data. It's all about data.
I do not necessarily see this as an invasion of our privacy as long as the data is acquired in a legal and reasonable manner. Cybercrime is real and an ever-growing threat, it's reassuring to know that our government has the resources and tools necessary to track down criminals or thwart any attacks on our American soil.
It's time to end the show. I'm here to clear up any confusion and letting this social experiment come to a close. What was created with minimal effort is now being labeled on Reddit as "One of the biggest trollings of /r/Conspiracy."