Fake Steve: Techmeme uber-troll

by Mathew on December 23, 2007 · 25 comments

Due to a surfeit of Christmas parties, I missed much of the Fake Steve Jobs takedown frenzy, in which the writer — otherwise known as Daniel Lyons of Forbes — claimed in a series of posts that Apple was trying to shut down his blog. I realize it’s easy for me to claim that I saw through the whole thing, since it’s all over now, but I must admit that even when I saw the headlines I had a suspicion we were being played like a prize trout.

I’m not sure I would describe Fake Steve’s trolling for sympathy as “brilliant,” as my friend Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 has, but it’s obvious Lyons knew he could get a huge amount of mileage out of such a rumour in the slow-news runup to Christmas. Fake Steve has continued to try and play the game, but his latest post — in which he describes an Apple lawyer offering him $500,000 to close the blog, and refers to his lawyer as Tony Clifton — is just too hard to believe.

First of all, there’s no way he would have been offered that much, and the addition of Tony Clifton as his lawyer is the capper, since that was the name of an alter ego character that comedian Andy Kaufman used. There’s a picture of Kaufman in the post too, getting beaten up by a female wrestler (some of his favourite gags involved wrestlers, including an infamous David Letterman appearance).

I’ll give Scoble some credit — he caught on fairly quickly, and so did Engadget, which pointed out that all the talk about Apple going after Lyons personally didn’t make much sense, considering he is employed by Forbes. Other skeptics included Steven Hodson of Winextra, as well as Shel Israel and to some extent ParisLemon. But it took others awhile to get the joke, including my friend Karoli and James Robertson (at least briefly).

A desperate cry for attention on Fake Steve’s part? I wonder. For awhile now I’ve been wondering how much longer FS could continue, now that everyone is in on the joke. Can a blog based on satire continue to work once everyone knows who’s behind it? I’m not sure. But when you have to resort to lashing out at the likes of yours truly — as FS did when I wrote my Think Secret post — maybe it’s time to turn out the lights.

  • http://www.en-dash.com/blog Jake

    I couldn't believe anyone fell for this. The first couple of posts were written in a fairly sincere-sounding manner, but the SUBSTANCE was absurd from the start. Not to mention the timing, just a day or two after the think secret thing came to light. And it was truly horrifying to read the credulous, clueless comments in the successively-more-ridiculous posts (e.g., “I will never buy another Apple product after the way they treated you!!!!” or “take the money, Dave–this is just a joke blog”). I mean, seriously, how can you take a satirical blog at face value?

    I weep for humanity.

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  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Well, maybe weeping for humanity is a little strong, Jake, but I know
    what you mean :-)

  • http://www.drumsnwhistles.com/ Karoli

    I know, no one can believe that someone would be stupid enough to fall for it. But I did, and so I figured it was worth an explanation. Of course, had I read it today with the newest posts added on, I'd have been far less gullible. When the endpoint was the third post, however, it still carried a ring of truth.

    Thanks for being gentle, Mathew. Perhaps I should rename my blog “The Perennial Optimist”, or maybe “Gullible's Travels”.

  • http://scrawledinwax.com scrawledinwax

    I tend to vacillate between two extremes on this: one, where I'm understanding and think that Lyons played off the post-Think Secret tone of the blogosphere; and another where I basically think people should be punished for their stupidity. I'm trying to force myself to lean towards the former as the blogosphere is full of enough condescension. Still, satire seems to be the ostensible – if not explicit – purpose of FSJ. I think this may be one of those moments where the downsides of the 'wisdom of crowds' came through – in this instance, the fact that the aggregation of opinion we see through Techmeme or the mix of feeds in our readers can really influence how we approach a story that, in a vacuum, we might otherwise be very sceptical of.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Like I said on Twitter, Karoli, if I had to choose between being too
    skeptical and too trusting, I would choose too trusting every time.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    I know what you mean, Nav, but I'm not sure whether Techmeme makes it
    better or worse. It may have pumped things up when the first post came
    out, but I think the number of skeptical posts may also have
    short-circuited it faster as well.

  • http://publishing2.com Scott Karp

    Oh come now, Mathew, give him some credit for this masterful work. The fact that be played the blogosphere like a fiddle is just a sideshow. This is the ultimate satire of Apple and a scathing critique of the Think Secret shutdown. My gut still hurts from laughing so hard. And the Andy Kaufman references — Swift himself couldn't have done it better.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Maybe I'm just jealous, Scott :-)

    I have to admit, putting Tony Clifton in there was pretty good.

  • http://scrawledinwax.com scrawledinwax

    Yeah, I see what you're saying. Maybe I was trying too hard to not descend into some sort of high-and-mighty “seriously?! you're kidding me right?”. Also, it's just possible I wasn't boozed up enough at the time. Now that that serious problem has been rectified, I love everyone – even those who believed that a satirical site was being sued in a suspiciously similar manner to Think Secret. ;)

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  • Foober

    Wow, you totally missed the point. Sure, he was faking it: it's a FAKE BLOG. But there was a meaning to this charade – like all those that FSJ perpetrates – and being a blogger you should really be reading into this one a lot more closely.

  • http://brainfrieze.net Kim C.

    Mike–

    Well, I sort of fell for it. Briefly. But then I started laughing, not only at the writing but at the kerfuffle it was causing in the overly serious, inside their own bubble world of tech bloggers and Silly Con Valley. Maybe it isn't brilliant, but it sure was good for a laugh.

    P.S. Your ThinkSecret piece was right on the money. I love my Mac and its software, but the company and it's policies? Not so much.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Don't worry, Foober — I get that.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Kim.

  • http://strumpette.com Amanda Chapel

    How ‘bout the companion piece: Mathew Ingram: The Globe and Mail uber-lightweight?

    Jesus. And who are the minds you reference to give credence to your post… Scoble, Shel Israel, James Robertson. Ridiculous.

    Okay, how many literal minds does it take to unscrew a light bulb? None. There isn’t a light bulb among them.

    C’mon Matt! Raise the freakin’ bar! Get off the Cluetrain. Step away from the pipe. Remember you are the company you keep.

    - Amanda

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Amanda — or whatever your name is. Not exactly sure what your
    point is, but I appreciate the concern nonetheless.

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  • jasonmann

    a thought:
    i believe fakesteve's post serves the purpose of diluting the 'thinksecret' shutdown issue.
    If not for anyone else, Apple PR guys should be really happy with fakesteve's job

  • http://brainfrieze.net Kim C.

    Mike–

    Well, I sort of fell for it. Briefly. But then I started laughing, not only at the writing but at the kerfuffle it was causing in the overly serious, inside their own bubble world of tech bloggers and Silly Con Valley. Maybe it isn't brilliant, but it sure was good for a laugh.

    P.S. Your ThinkSecret piece was right on the money. I love my Mac and its software, but the company and it's policies? Not so much.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Don't worry, Foober — I get that.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Kim.

  • http://strumpette.com Amanda Chapel

    How ‘bout the companion piece: Mathew Ingram: The Globe and Mail uber-lightweight?

    Jesus. And who are the minds you reference to give credence to your post… Scoble, Shel Israel, James Robertson. Ridiculous.

    Okay, how many literal minds does it take to unscrew a light bulb? None. There isn’t a light bulb among them.

    C’mon Matt! Raise the freakin’ bar! Get off the Cluetrain. Step away from the pipe. Remember you are the company you keep.

    - Amanda

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks, Amanda — or whatever your name is. Not exactly sure what your
    point is, but I appreciate the concern nonetheless.

  • jasonmann

    a thought:
    i believe fakesteve's post serves the purpose of diluting the 'thinksecret' shutdown issue.
    If not for anyone else, Apple PR guys should be really happy with fakesteve's job

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