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A Typo, Twitter, and a Twist of Fate Find WikiLeaks a New Friend

The short tale of a typo, angry hackers, and a business man fighting against Twitter trends. In the end, WikiLeaks found an accidental ally.


This is a frustrating tale of a typo, angry hackers, and a business man fighting against Twitter trends. In the end, WikiLeaks found itself an circuitous route to a new domain. Meanwhile, a Canadian is being called both an American traitor and a hero, and everyone's still getting the story wrong.

First, a typo on a few blog posts led WikiLeaks supporters to harass the wrong company The New York Times reports:


Several blogs and Web sites had posted variations of this sentence: "EasyDNS.net has cut off DNS service to WikiLeaks." (DNS refers to the Domain Name System, which is something like a switchboard for the Internet.)

WikiLeaks had indeed lost the support of the company that was providing the connection between the domain name wikileaks.org and the WikiLeaks Web servers. But that company was EveryDNS, a free provider based in the United States.

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Not EasyDNS! EasyDNS is a Toronto-based company that never had WikiLeaks as a client. But it does now, almost. That's the surprise twist of this case of mistaken identity.

We're now in the age of accidental slander, where maligning a person or a company, or even just affixing a false claim to them, is echoed online faster than a fact-checker could ever hit backspace. There has always been an imbalance between mistake and correction—the front page error is corrected in a small box below the fold, seen by far fewer readers—but this makes lay readers the transmitters of falsehoods, especially in tweets, and there's no correction coming there. So what's the response? EasyDNS did pretty well.

To protect itself from attacks like those against MasterCard and PayPal last week, the head of EasyDNS, Mark Jeftovic, took to the internet to correct the error before any hacking occurred, according the The New York Times:

"For the next several days and nights, Mr. Jeftovic and his staff found themselves engaged in variation of the game Whac-A-Mole. As they contacted bloggers to correct their mistakes, new online posts from several large news organizations — including The New York Times, The Financial Times and The Guardian — with the wrong name popped up.

"The news reports, in turn, set off another round of blogging. “Twitter was the pulse of the whole thing,” Mr. Jeftovic said. He found that the messages there accelerated the spread of each incorrect report, overwhelming, at times, his efforts at damage control. He added: “I was really dreading getting up in the morning.”"

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Edward R. Murrow said: "The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue." He had no idea about Twitter.

There you can't take back an error, but you can overwhelm it with enough counter-content. In the process of defending himself on every forum where he was finding the false claim, Jeftovic made many claims in defense of WikiLeaks. That in turn led someone affiliated with the Julian Assange to ask EasyDNS if they would host several domain names for WikiLeaks—an unexpected twist, opportunism on all sides, really. Mark Jeftovic felt he should put his money where his mouth was, and agreed, finding himself with a new controversial client, and a lot of publicity. He expects business to rise in the end due to all the attention, especially now that WikiLeaks is back online, and Jeftovic was getting the credit.

But as he posts on the company blog that's not warranted, either. Although he said he would help WikiLeaks, but he wasn't the one who got the site back up. Still there's now a slew of Twitter credit going his way—and a few clients fleeing and calling him a traitor, even though he's Canadian.

It's tempting to say he can't catch a break, but, really he's quite good at that. He just can't catch an accurate break, and maybe that is the lesson: The disorderly web is anarchic in its fleeting trends and runaway hits, and luck will increasingly play a bigger role in business. Those who can harness opportunity and manage their luck, like Jeftovic, will last longer. But luck is still luck, and it's not always fair.

Image (cc) by Flickr user Smemon87