Did 4chan cause the July 4th JFK airport bomb scare?
Sunday night I blogged about news reports that a terminal at JFK International Airport in New York City had been evacuated on account of a bomb threat. I had a barbecue waiting for some July 4th fun times, but I figured better safe than sorry, especially after the Christmas Day bombing attempt by a wanne-be al Qaida operative.
It turned out to be nothing, but I was surprised by the traffic surge I got to the blog post the next morning. Why were so many people clicking on news of a bomb threat that turned out only to be a bomb scare? Because, the story went, the pranksters at the anonymous message board 4chan were involved.
Nearly identical scripts went up on a variety of bulletin boards stating that 4chan was responsible, and a lot of them pointed back to the blog report from yours truly. Here’s one of them from the Prison Planet forums:
JFK airport recently had a bomb scare but this time it isnt a PsyOP. Here is what happened.
- Girl said she was gonna show her boobs on 4Chan if they made her laugh and all that and then she didn’t do it
-4chan got all her info including parents and found out that she has a flight to Africa in a few days
-They call the feds or Homeland Security to say that she has a bomb and drugs on her
End result was this:
Also here is one of the actual phone calls to Homeland Security made to stop this girl from getting on the plane:
Ah, a classic story – boys meets girl, girl welches on promise to take her top off, boys call the feds to shut down an international airport. You can find references to 4chan making life heck for the young lady and a lot of other airline passengers at the IGN forums, as well as in this CNN comment thread. There’s more out there if you really want to get into it.
I’m dubious. Beyond the apparently very busy weekend that 4chan’s merry pranksters had (sending Justin Bieber to North Korea *and* phoning in a bomb threat to an airport) there are some holes in the story.
For instance, if you listen to the recording linked in the various message board posts, the caller to DHS states that the young lady is flying out of Newark International Airport. But the bomb scare happened not at Newark, but across bridges and tunnels at JFK out on Long Island. Additionally, the news stories, including the CNN report above, said a woman called in the threat – a man’s voice is heard in the posted recording.
I also saw a reference in the 4chan thread on the infamous /b/ board that appeared to indicate the young lady in question was expressing her anger at 4chan and threatening to sue them for keeping her off her plane (the thread has been zapped from the site). So apparently she was posting to 4chan while she was involved in the airport evacuation? That seems highly unlikely.
So when you combine these details with the systematic posting of a similar script to a variety of different message boards, it would imply that someone out there wants to claim 4chan’s credit for the bomb scare or, perhaps, smear the name of 4chan’s anonymous members (who have done some good in the past with their swarm techniques). A family member who is hip to 4chan just remarked to me that he thought Anonymous was “too clever for bomb threats.”
4chan is a great thing – it’s anonymity makes anything possible. But it also enables the circulation of deliberately misleading and false information. That’s probably what someone is doing here – whether deliberately to 4chan’s credit, or detriment, we may never know. But I’m sure federal authorities will take an interest in reports that the board’s pranksters were involved in a bomb threat, and that could cause a very bad week for some of the people involved in running the site.
(* – Note – I obscured the link to the audio because whoever this young lady is, I don’t want to propagate her name.)