On 29 February 2016, a fake New York Times story caused a stir when it appeared to show that Senator Elizabeth Warren had endorsed Bernie Sanders for President. The article — which used the same layout and typeface as the actual outlet — claimed that Sanders had also received the endorsements of Senator Barbara Boxer and actress Lena Dunham. It was convincing enough that thousands shared the piece on social media before it was taken down:
The fake article was apparently created with Clone Zone, which exists specifically so that users can spoof well-known web sites (with links that appear similar at first glance to those pages). Popular spoofs include other fake New York Times articles with Onion-style headlines (“President Obama Imagines Seinfeld Today,” “Man Receives Identical Plaid Shirt For Birthday”) but none that received the level of attention so fast as the Bernie Sanders endorsement.
The New York Times quickly issued a statement about the clone page:
“An article circulating on social media tonight that is made to resemble a New York Times story and says Elizabeth Warren endorsed Bernie Sanders is a fake and has no connection to The Times,” said Matthew Purdy, a deputy executive editor of The Times.
Ms. Warren has yet to endorse a presidential candidate.
The article appeared to have been created around midday Monday on Clone Zone, a website that allows users to make website “clones” in the guise of well-established sites.
As of Monday night, the fake article had been viewed more than 50,000 times, with 15,000 shares on Facebook, Clone Zone said.
Many readers appeared to be taken in.
The link to the fake story is still up, but clicking on it brought up the following message:
According to the New York Times, the domain www.nytimes.com has now been blocked from being cloned.
Rumors and conspiracy theories flew through the political sphere faster than the original article, with wonks and pundits offering up their own speculation about which politician’s camp created it, and what they hoped to accomplish by doing so while eliding the most likely explanation: that (like so many things on the internet) a random person created the spoof page because they thought it might be amusing.
No matter who was behind it, the fake article should impart a valuable lesson about the internet: always check your sources.