What a day I’m having!
Okay, so September of last year I was gearing up to buy a band saw. I liked the Craftsman 18” Wood/Metal deal for $1300 (and eventually got that one). Above the picture on the saw’s page were clickable, hierarchical categories, something like “Power Tools > Saws > Band Saws.” You could click on each to go to broader categories – pretty standard. I noticed in the address bar that these category names were echoed in the URL as variable names. On a whim, I modified them in the URL and resubmitted the page, and it worked. My new categorizations showed up. I posted my modified link for my friends on another site to show them which saw I wanted, and they all laughed at the categories, and that was that. Here's a screencap, with the parts I was screwing with highlighted (warning: vulgar language :)
Last night, someone here at LJs asked me which band saw I had, so I typed “craftsman saw” in my address bar and as Firefox does, it showed me the most relevant, previously-visited links. I saw “Craftsman 18-Inch Wood / Metal etc” and clicked that one, copied the link, and commented back to the LJ commenter. Only then did I realize that the spaces in my vulgarities – which I had forgotten all about, and didn’t intend to post here – had broken LJs’ markdown, so what I had commented was a link to the page, followed by a broken stream of swearing. I couldn’t edit it. I slapped my forehead and commented again explaining the humorous situation, and apologizing for any unintended offense.
Then I thought I’d post that to reddit.com – a user-submitted news site from which I’ve gathered LJs a few members recently (woodworkers there who didn’t know about LJs). My submission is here, and the headline I posted used to go to my modified Craftsman saw page at Sears’ site, though it is now broken. It’s broken, because the smarty-pants nerds at reddit had a field day with my link, trying everything from SQL injections (which would let them modify Sears’ inventory, etc – thankfully these attempts all failed outright), to getting code to run through the site (also, thankfully failed attempts). And naturally, they made many more tweaked titles, including changing grilling machines to be baby grilling machines, and listing computers as “Porn Enablers.” This was funny (nerds can have quite twisted senses of humor), but worse was that Sears’ site, to alleviate many requests coming in, will cache pages, such that people coming in from non-tweaked URLs – i.e. the public – would start seeing our goofball headings. Major headslap.
Some folks from reddit used Sears’ live online support to have chats wherein they pranked them by asking questions like “How far can this thing launch babies?” for a baby carrier modified to now be called a baby launching device, and each was appropriately met with bewildered and horrified tech representatives. I started at this point to wonder what the fallout would be from my harmless little game. Was I going to end up arrested?
Soon my post, which had amassed nearly 1300 upvotes (very high for the site – most popular things are in the 10s, or low-to-mid hundreds), and which was sitting at #2 in the list on the front page (stories move up by popularity and upvotes, and down as these things wane) disappeared entirely from anything but a direct link to it. I was #2, then gone. I made a new post to ask if I’d been censored, and one of the site admins came in to comment that yes, he had been forced to take it down. Apparently Sears’ lawyers were on the phone all morning with Conde Nast’s lawyers (CN owns reddit), and forced them to remove my post from the front page. So my new post – asking about the censorship was on track for #1 with a bullet. It was #37 front page, comments pouring in (nerds are often very opposed to and outspoken against censorship). I refreshed. It was #12, many more comments listed. I refreshed again. GONE! Censored again!
I know the guys running reddit hate censorship, but what can you do when you have Sears and Conde Nast level lawyers on your back? So soon the links were all breaking. People at Sears were scrambling to turn off caching of links, and to even remove items! That’s right, I can’t even find my $1300 saw on Sears.com anymore. Direct searches don’t list it! Removing the junk from the modified URL and resubmitting just brings you to a dead page. This seems a bit of an overreaction to me. I get the grilling machine thing, but what woodworker wouldn’t want a manly saw that proclaimed its dominance with a little bit of proud swearing? ;)
Well, then it got worse. TMZ picked up the story, and last I checked there were 140 comments there, most of which believed this was all started by a disgruntled former employee. Then Fox was on it from there :(
I’m kind of thankful that pretty much everyone is crediting the wrong sites and people for this internet mischief. I don’t want it all to crash down on me! I’m just a silly goofball. I can’t do jail time! As fun as it’s been to keep up with this all day, I think I’m going to go hide under my workbench. Don’t tell anyone you saw me.
-- Gary, Los Angeles, video game animator