No, Andreessen Horowitz isn’t buying Y Combinator for $266 billion. In fact the post, which looks an awful lot like a real TechCrunch post, is actually a hoax and never appeared on the TechCrunch site at all.
How was a forgery accomplished so easily and how did it spread so virally that it garnered over 25,000 views in 12 hours?
It is a trick played using what could be one of the most diabolical tools on the internet: shrturl.co. Because everything on the page looks Kosher, from the headers to the Facebook comments, there’s no reason to suspect a thing… until you read the text.
Created by the designer of TheNextWeb.com Alexander Griffioen, ShrtURL lets you choose any website on the internet and then customize that page with your own text. However, the style and design of the page remains entirely the same, and even includes widgets like Facebook comments. That’s how Dave McClure was able to comment on this forged story.
These are funny, and (should be) obviously fake. But the ways in which this can be used to confuse, and hurt, people are many. Like this. (John doesn’t have herpes.)
The pages created at Shrturl last for 48 hours before expiring.
As you may be able to infer, this could be used for evil in a number of ways. The actual URL itself — http://shrturl.co/(characters) — resembles a regular shortened link so much that the reader likely won’t suspect foul play. And when they land on a page that looks identical to the actual website they’re used to it’s easy to overlook an outrageous headline and believe inaccurate information.
Which is why I was barraged on Twitter today about a ridiculous, imaginary acquisition. (The hoax was created by this guy, by the way, who didn’t realize that his prank intended for friends would be shared so widely.)
To make matters worse, Shrturl lets you mask the URL as a Bit.ly link, which ends up redirecting to Shrturl, but looks better for sharing purposes. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a bad joke.
Pranks are fun and part of what makes the internet so great, but let this be your warning.
If you happen to stumble upon a crazy story in the news, or see something weird on a friend’s Twitter page, double-check the actual URL. If it’s coming from ShrtURL.co, you’ve been punk’d.
Then again, you never know. Maybe Griffioen has come up with a way to mask the URLs, too. Maybe this post is fake.