The mysterious "October Surprise" promised on a viral website — and promoted by a BuzzFeed user on our site — could be no more than a stunt.
On Thursday, a community user posted on BuzzFeed promote an "October Surprise" involving the presidential election, showing a blurred-out document and linking back to OctSurprise.com. (BuzzFeed deleted the post.) The website features a countdown clock to October 21st and a Twitter account.
A reverse IP search shows that the website belongs to Anthony Maro of Chicago, Illinois. The person who posted the website's link on BuzzFeed is Jeff Hopwood, one of Maro's coworkers at Discovery Communications, the company that encompasses the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, and other brands.
Hopwood and Maro didn't respond to requests for comment.
Internet forums hold another clue to the pair's history: "The Greatest Rickroll Ever," a prank in 2007 in which Maro and Hopwood are rumored to have been behind a site called Radioheadlp7.com and started a similar countdown, promising new information on that year's much-hyped Radiohead album when the timer ran out.
When the timer ran out, users were rickrolled -- a popular Internet prank at the time that involves putting a video of Rick Astley behind a link purporting to be something else. Radiohead denied being a part of the stunt.
Hopwood told the New York Observer that he was "slightly involved" and that the site had been made by “a group of developers that I’m friends with." He said he didn't know what was in the blurred document.
Hopwood denied that the stunt could have anything to do with marketing for Animal Planet's "Decision 2012."
Update: Hopwood got back to BuzzFeed in an email, saying "While trying to not sound too coarse, the response to our site has been a bit overwhelming and we'd need a pretty good reason to answer any of these questions right now."
"There's some concern about safety, etc," Hopwood said. "We expect that the end of this is nearer than our site would suggest."
Hopwood also said that the "response has been incredible," and that "We're hoping voters and all of the campaigns are paying attention and we are looking forward to the final reveal!"
Update II: Hopwood called BuzzFeed back a few minutes ago. He said he didn't know what was going to happen when the clock on October Surprise runs out.
"I was hoping you could give me some insight on that," he said. "I can’t rickroll anybody anymore."
He said his employers didn't know about the site — "No, yeah I‘m kind of worried about that, so I’m going to try and shut the thing down."
Rosie Gray is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, D.C. Gray reports on politics and foreign policy.
Contact Rosie Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.