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Guest Post: The Fox News Twitter Hack

Today we have a guest post from Kristian Bannister, Search Marketing Executive at Social Media Agency No Pork Pies. Kristian takes a look at the FoxNewsPolitics Twitter hack that happened earlier in the week, to see what affect the incident had on social media:

Early on Monday 4th July, a day of national celebration in the United States, Fox News had one of their Twitter profiles hacked. Over the next few hours the account posted a number of phoney Tweets declaring President Obama had been assassinated. The tweets remained on the feed for 10 hours before being removed, with a group of hackers known as ‘Script Kiddies’ taking credit.

With most major media organisations using multiple profiles on social networks to disseminate their stories, ensuring each is not compromised will be a high priority following the Fox News hack.

With the rise of real time news streams through sites like Twitter, false information can spread like wildfire, which brings into question the security of Twitter and how organisations and brands can ensure incidents like this don’t happen to them. Twitter hacks like this are not uncommon, and in some cases are orchestrated by members within the organisation who have full access to the profile, such as the case of Vodafone’s comprised tweets back in February 2010.

This isn’t even the first case of Fox News’ Twitter feeds becoming hacked. Back in early 2009, @foxnews tweeted “Breaking: Bill O Reilly is gay” in reference to the popular and controversial host of O’Reilly Factor.

I used Social Media Monitoring Tool, Brandwatch, to look at how quickly an incident like this can spread on Twitter and then into other networks.

In the four days in lead up to the hack the phrase “foxnewspolitics” or “Fox News Politics had only 5 mentions. This very lower number can most likely be attributed to the account remaining dormant for since 30th June. On the day of the hack (Monday 4th July), this shot up rapidly to 5442 mentions. This dropped down to 1480 the following day, and down to 299 on the 6th.

Although it is too early to tell whether it has a lasting damage on the credibility and trust of Fox News’ Twitter feed, over a third of the mentions were negative when discussing the event.

86% of mentions occurred on Twitter, which reflects how easily compromised Tweets can spread through the site. Interestingly Google Plus has claimed a 4% share of the site mentions, which is rather impressive considering it only launched on 28th June, and is still in an invite-only testing stage. Perhaps this foreshadows Google Plus as a potential Twitter rival for news sharing.

One of the aims of the phoney Tweets was to get the hash-tag “#ObamaDead” trending. I looked at how successful they were and whether it stuck after the Tweets had been revealed as false.

The total number of mentions of “#ObamaDead” was considerably less than ‘Fox News Politics’. The hash-tag was mentioned 1212 times, with 84% occurring on Twitter. This number peaked on the day of the hacking, with 865 mentions, followed by 307 the next day. The hash-tag seemingly disappeared on the third day with only 40 mentions.

While the story of the hacking continued to be talked about after the event, the intentions of the hackers to spread a false news story had a much shorter lifespan.

It would seem that Twitter users are generally clued up to when a false Tweet is posted, and because many users are likely to be following a number of news organisation feeds, there is a very short window until false Tweets can easily be proven to be untrue. Instead most of the conversation revolved around Fox News and judging from the percentage of negative sentiment the incident definitely drew a large amount of criticism.

On Monday, Twitter released a statement claiming their own servers had not been compromised, and instead it was the e-mail account associated with Twitter account that had been hacked.

Although this is highly unlikely to be the last case of a major organisation or brand being the subject of Twitter hacking; it does once again act as a reminder to everyone, especially big organisations who are more likely to come under attack, to create strong airtight passwords!