Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Propriety of Pranks

So the big news from this weekend (N-G, DI) is that someone managed to hack the everybody@uiuc.edu email system (which, as far as I understood it, was locked down to all but a few approved users) and sent spoof emails from Chancellor Herman to discourage people from Rushing this Fall. While long time readers know that I approve such sentiments, I have to condemn whoever did this.

"Why?" you might ask. The answer is simple: they did a piss-poor job of mimicking the Chancellor's prose and I belong to the school of thought that a prank not done well is not worth doing.

Look, here's the spoofed email in its entirety:

Dear Students,

Many of you may be aware of an event known as Rush. It is my objective to warn you of the potential downsides of Greek organizations. I advise you to not succumb to the aggressive recruitment tactics used by these organizations. It has been my concern over the years, that the Greek culture of alcoholism and lack of respect for the community degrades campus life. These organizations present themselves as prestigious, yet are discriminatory, serve to perpetuate social inequality, especially with respect to the opposite gender, and promote a lack of diversity. Many students have expressed concerns with regards to safety on campus, particularly due to Greek culture and behavior. It is my hope that a student's experience on campus strengthens one's individuality, but the Greek system emphasizes the group above all, without cause or reason. This is detrimental to the purpose of universities.

I hope that you will consider wisely.

GDI Chancellor Richard Herman
Now, having spent years reading the man's email prose, I could tell right off the bat that the author of the email was not Chancellor Herman. For example, here's a MASSMAIL that went out this past May:
Dear Friends:

I am delighted to announce that our online networking community Always Illinois now features email forwarding. All members of the Always Illinois community can customize an @alumni.illinois.edu address, providing long-term consistency and connectivity. It's also a great way to network with family, friends and colleagues.

If you haven't already, I urge you to sign up for Always Illinois online. Our exciting networking community is a free benefit to all Illinois alumni, students, faculty and staff. Always Illinois offers all the basic functions of a social network with added levels of security and privacy. To join and strengthen your ties to our great Illinois family, visit www.alwaysillinois.org.

Richard Herman

**Always Illinois and e-mail forwarding are free services provided by the
University of Illinois Alumni Association and the Office of the Chancellor.

This mailing approved by:
The Office of the Chancellor

This Message sent via MASSMAIL. http://www.cites.uiuc.edu/services/massmail/
Note the many differences: Chancellor Herman starts off with an open greeting to his readers, he spreads his prose out into multiple paragraphs, he generally has a conclusion, he places his title on the next line after his name instead of placing it immediately before his name, the email was sent by MASSMAIL, and it was "approved by the Office of the Chancellor". The scam email had none of these things.

Now, if the author(s) of the spoofed email had taken the time to make their message look more credible, they would probably have delayed a campus reaction by a few hours (as it would've taken longer for people to realize it was a hoax) and they would have gotten my kudos. Instead, I am forced to condemn them for doing a half-assed job.

Bonus for the journalism majors: Ask the Chancellor's office or campus Public Relations if the Chancellor had been a member of a fraternity while in college. If he was, that would be multiple kinds of hilarious.


rknil said...

Yeah, pranks have to be done well.

In my DI days, I once concocted a fake news alert saying Michael Jordan was retiring from basketball. It had a couple of flaws, but it likely would have fooled some people. After a few minutes, I decided it would do more harm than good, and I removed it.

Then, months later, Michael Jordan really did retire.

The Squire said...

Yeah, that's another rule for pulling a prank - they need to be anonymous enough that it's too much trouble to find the person who pulled it for the type of stunt they did. Putting out fake news like that would likely have bitten the sender in the ass (assuming the person posting the fake news was someone whose name didn't start with "D" and end with "rudge").

As for this stunt, there'll be a load of hurt for the person who pulled it if they figure out who it was.