WASHINGTON — The Syrian Electronic Army was inspired to hack The Onion by an article in a socialist publication written by an Occupy Wall Street and labor activist, a representative of the SEA told BuzzFeed.
"The Onion is more satire than joke website, most readers are aware of that fact and so are we," an anonymous member of the SEA said in an email. "This does not detract from the fact that the basis of their 'humor' was rooted in the narrative promoted by most major corporate media. After a member read the article "The Onion website joins the U.S. Anti-Syria Club" by Shamus Cooke that details how The Onion can be even more effective war-time propaganda than even 'serious' and seemingly credible media, we were convinced to make our move."
"The irresponsible promotion of chemical weapons claims and attribution of all the mayhem in Syria on the one side attempting to keep order is very much an assumption of their focus on Syria," the SEA member said. "This is why the majority of informed people do not find such articles funny. We decided to fix that part too, even if some humorless writers at the Washington times didn't like it."
The article in question appeared on Workers Compass, published by Workers Action, a "Revolutionary Socialist Organization," according to its tagline. Workers Compass' "about" section notes that "We encourage the unions and community groups to join with the Occupy Movement to demand concessions from the 1 percent. We strongly support the Occupy Movement's coming to the defense of unions engaged in struggles with their employers."
"I don't know very much about the Syrian Electronic Army or their work," Shamus Cooke, the author of the article, told BuzzFeed in an email. "However, I will say that the Onion very much deserved to be hacked based on their terribly biased articles on Syria. The article they wrote about the Syrian Electronic Army post-hack was especially repulsive, and only further proved the points made in my article." Cooke's Facebook cover photo is a shot of a workers' demonstration in Venezuala. His Twitter bio identifies him as a "Social Service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action" in Portland, OR.
The SEA managed to take control of The Onion's Twitter feed for a stretch earlier this week, after weeks of satirical articles from the website that seemed to encourage the Obama Administration to intervene in the Syrian conflict. Sample hacked tweet: "We regret taking zionist money to defame Syria, now the hackers are up our ass." The Onion explained how the hack occurred in a post on their tech blog.
The SEA representative who spoke with BuzzFeed said that the organization couldn't give any hints about who they'll target next, but "we will continue our fight in spreading the truth, maybe we will change our targets in the next days and maybe not that's depend on the situation in the real battle field." So far, they've hacked into systems for the AP, the Guardian, and other news organizations.
The hackers, some of whom are based in Syria and others in Western countries, use Facebook groups and "an hidden IRC on unknown website" (sic) to organize their operations, the representative said.
Their actual identities remain hidden, though most appear to be students.
"We are just Syrian youths who want to defend their country against the media campaign that is spreading false/fabricated news about our home land Syria," the hacker who spoke to BuzzFeed said. "Most of us are in High School and Colleges."
"We are not sure if all of our families do know(You know we can't ask all the members..), but anyway they will be proud of us and our work," the hacker asserted.
"We don't have any goal, we are defending our country and that's our duty, maybe we will stop when the crisis is over; but till that time, we will keep defending our country in this way or another one."
"We support President Bashar Al Assad as he is the legitimate representative of the Syrian people; we are defending our country Syria against the terrorists that they were sent by US/Qatar/SaudiArabia/Turkey and Jordan. The Syrian Arab Army fighting the terrorists in the real battlefield and we are here fighting in the cyberspace in order to spread the truth about what is really happen in Syria," the SEA hacker said. (An interview that a SEA hacker did with Global Post went deeper into the group's political motivations.)
The hacker said the SEA had no immediate plans to target BuzzFeed.
"We will if you published false news about Syria :) so if you don't want us to target you, you have to make sure that you will not do that ;)," he or she said.
This post has been updated to include Cooke's comments. 7:21 p.m.
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.