A 15-year-old hacker took over the Twitter account of official Westboro Baptist Church spokeswoman Shirley Lynn Phelps-Roper on Monday. And in an unusual show of solidarity with a hacker, the Twitter community is thanking the anonymous “hacktivist.”
The popular teenage hacker, who goes by “Cosmo the Great,” exploited a flaw in Twitter’s help-desk system to take over Phelps-Roper’s account, Wired reported Monday night. Twitter suspended the account Monday morning.
Phelps-Roper apparently sent her last authentic tweet hours after the Sandy Hook tragedy, announcing that the controversial group planned to picket outside the funerals of Newtown victims. Cosmo broke into the account on Monday morning, changing Phelps-Roper’s background to an illustration that said “pray for Newtown” and editing her profile information.
Such hacks into private accounts are usually shunned by social media users, and for obvious reasons — they disrupt the network and, in many cases, compromise personal information. A series of coordinated attacks in 2009 compromised the accounts of the Huffington Post, Facebook and CNN’s Rick Sanchez among 29 others, according to Techcrunch. “I’m assuming the people that find these lame-brain pranks funny are not Twitter users,” one reader commented at the time. The recent leaks of several thousand LinkedIn passwords and Apple ID numbers were also greeted with widespread dismay.
But this act appears to be garnering support in some corners of the social Web. Cosmo used the @DearShirley account to retweet dozens of people thanking him for “winning the Internet” and “restor[ing] my faith in humanity.” Twitter also took a full day to lock the account down, suggesting that no one complained about the hack for several hours.
“I support free speech & do NOT approve of hacking,” one user wrote, “and yet I can’t help but kinda love that @CosmoTheGod hacked WBC’s@DearShirley account.”
Other more compromising Westboro Church privacy hacks have also been greeted with a certain amount of support among online communities. After the group announced its plans to picket outside the Newtown funerals, hackers with the Anonymous collective posted the phone numbers, addresses and Social Security numbers of WBC members to Pastebin and the leak-release site Par-anoia.net.
Some coverage of that hack sounds almost laudatory — “Hard to criticize Anonymous for targeting Westboro Baptist Church,” reads one headline on CSO Online, a security news site — and Twitter mentions of the leak are almost universally positive. Users retweeted an anti-WBC threat from Anonymous’s news account more than 1,000 times.
Now many of the hacktivists and Westboro-haters are celebrating — as of Monday morning, they seem to have won. Twitter’s suspension of the @DearShirley account effectively silenced Phelps-Roper in addition to Cosmo.
But the surrounding brouhaha also gave the Westboro Baptist Church the publicity they seek out with their actions. Twitter mentions of the group soared from fewer than 2,000 to more than 118,000 in the past two days, and people were still tweeting about @DearShirley hours after the account came down.