Vincent Gable’s Blog

April 27, 2009

Don’t Trust TIME

Filed under: Announcement,Security | , , ,
― Vincent Gable on April 27, 2009

Technical problems can be remediated. A dishonest corporate culture is much harder to fix.

Bruce Schneier

UPDATE 2009-06-12: See also, The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years.

BREAKING NEWS 2010-08-26: The Onion: TIME Magazine Announces New Version of Magazine for Adults.

Recently The 2009 TIME 100 Finalists online-poll was manipulated with hither-to unheard of sophistication. Not only did hackers vote their choice into the #1 spot, but they stuffed the ballot so that the runners up spelled out a message!


Jeff Atwood called TIME’s web developers clowns, but that seems too harsh to me, since online polls are so inherently untrustworthy that spending resources trying to secure them is almost always a waste. Even if all the technical problems could be solved, the results still wouldn’t be meaningful, because they wouldn’t be a census or a random sampling. An online poll is a way to engage readers, and let them do more than passively consume. TIME’s poll succeeded there, even if it was gamed. (Arguably it was more engaging because it was gamed).

But today, April 27th, TIME’s writers disingenuously denied the hack’s technical team did detect and extinguish several
attempts to hack the vote.

When I first heard news of the attacks, it was already a week old, TIME’s whitewashing came two weeks after the results of the hack were published. Portraying the hack as an “attempt” that was “extinguished” is just blatantly wrong.

I’m a big believer in Hanlon’s razor: “never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” But it’s very hard to give TIME’s staff the benefit of the doubt here, since by their own admission they were aware of the hack, and the poll results were “surprising”. It takes a staggering amount of stupidity not to connect the dots, or be aware of what was being written about you for weeks.

Consequently, TIME has lost my trust. If their denial was written in stupidity, it shows an unforgivably incompetent journalistic ethic. If it was a deliberate whitewashing of the poll results, then it’s an even more egregious failure. Also, what kind of an article announcing the winner of a poll only has pictures of people who are not the winner? (Hint: something by the hacks at TIME)

1 Comment »

  1. Very funny. I was stunned when I read about “moot.” It never occurred to me that it was a hack. I thought it was just further evidence of how far out of the pop-culture loop I am. Don’t be too hard on Time, though. By and large, it’s been a respectable carrier of dull-edge journalism and conventional opinion for over 70 years. Everybody hates to own up to their mistakes. The cover-up is inherent in corporate culutre. At least their boo-boo didn’t get anyone killed.

    Comment by Ernie — June 6, 2009 @ 2:49 pm

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