On Saturday evening, the 60 Minutes Twitter feed began looking suspiciously authoritarian and conspiracy-minded:
Needless to say, this is not how the investigative news program typically does business. The torrent of anti-Americanism is widely believed to have been the result of hacking by pro-Assad elements irked by the State Department’s announcement on Saturday that the US would double non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition and provide new humanitarian aid. Since Saturday, the 60 Minutes Twitter account (as well as CBS’ 48 Hours account) have been suspended.
“We are resolving the issue with Twitter now,” a spokesman for 60 Minutes told me late Monday afternoon, insisting on anonymity. (At the time of this post’s publication, the show’s account remained suspended.)
CBS is hardly the first institution targeted by the armada of pro-Assad, pro-mass murder hackers. Since early 2012, the loosely defined Syrian Electronic Army (yes, that’s SEA) has disrupted the online and social-media operations of NPR, BBC Weather, AFP, Reuters, FRANCE 24, Al Jazeera, Human Rights Watch, and others. A Twitter account associated with the group was indeed recently suspended, though there’s no indication of US government involvement.
“We had a breach that stemmed from a successful spearphishing attack,” Emma Daly, communications director at Human Rights Watch, says, regarding the incident in March. “Someone was able to get access and post a message on the site, and posted it in such a way that it was automatically sent to our Twitter feed…I don’t want to say it was a minor [incident], but it was not a sophisticated attack. [Whoever did it] obviously didn’t like our reporting on Syria.”
UPDATE (4/23, 4:18 p.m. EDT): The Syrian Electronic Army claimed responsibility for hacking the Associated Press Twitter account on Tuesday, and sending out a Tweet falsely claiming that President Obama had been injured after two explosions rocked the White House. That tweet caused a brief stock market panic.
UPDATE (4/24, 8:30 p.m. EDT): The 60 Minutes Twitter account is no longer suspended.