For people of a certain age who worked at The Associated Press prior to the internet, Mark Twain [never worked with him; heard a lot about him] provided a comment in which we took great pride, though it sounds somewhat quaint today:
There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe… the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press down here.
The key words above are, of course, “prior to the internet.” Now all sorts of forces carry light, and darkness, to all corners of the globe and the AP is only one among them.
Those forces converged yesterday when hackers apparently working for the pro-Assad forces in Syria hacked the AP’s Twitter feed with a bulletin about a White House bomb injuring President Obama. The Dow Jones dropped. But quick repudiation by all sides restored order in minutes.
The good news is that AP reacted quickly and expertly — as is its reputation — and squelched the report. No doubt, AP technical support people, who for decades have been the unseen heroes of the news service’s delivery abilities, are enhancing security.
The bad news — as Burger King and Jeep discovered — is that troublemakers are going to target social media more and more simply because of the effect they can have and because that’s where the people are. That’s where we now congregate.
As Zach Miners wrote in PCWorld:
Getting hacked on Twitter is fast becoming a rite of passage for big corporations, but Tuesday’s attack on the Associated Press could be a tipping point and shows that social networks must do more to keep their users safe, security experts said.
Your company may not have as high a profile as the AP, or even Burger King. And surely hackers will target companies that get them the most attention for their efforts. But if you are not reviewing your company Twitter and Facebook security about now, you are inviting a crisis.
These days, a crisis can and will come at any time, from any direction. The next time someone tries to hack into a news feed like the AP’s, you can be sure they will insert more than one tweet. More realism will cause more problems if a series of tweets creates a narrative.
As Miners noted: The AP joins a list of companies that have recently been hacked on Twitter. Three CBS brands — 60 Minutes, 48 Hours and a Denver news affiliate — were hijacked this past weekend. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have also been hacked in recent months. In February, Twitter announced the site itself had been breached.
The hackers probably won’t get the AP again next time, but will they get you?
And so we close with Twain, always ahead of his time:
“Apparently there is nothing that cannot happen today.”
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.