German massacre hoax highlights Internet perils

14th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

In the message, which officials initially believed to have been typed by Kretschmer, he warned that he would "whip up a storm" at the school, naming the town -- Winnenden -- where it would take place.

Berlin -- With a faked Internet warning of this week's school massacre in Germany turning out to have duped investigators, the spotlight turned Friday on the dangers of multimedia manipulation.

During a press conference on Thursday, the state minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg read out a typed dialogue said to have taken place between 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer and a 17-year old from Bavaria.

This was believed to have taken place less than seven hours before the teenager on Wednesday shot dead eight girls, one boy and three female teachers at his old school, and then three innocent bystanders in the surrounding area.

Kretschmer then turned the gun on himself in a shootout with police.

In the message, which officials initially believed to have been typed by Kretschmer, he warned that he would "whip up a storm" at the school, naming the town -- Winnenden -- where it would take place.

But on Friday police and the minister, Heribert Rech, retracted their claims, saying that no trace of the message had been found on Kretschmer's computer.

"These days it is incredibly easy to manipulate data in chat rooms," Sebastian Clausz, a computer scientist from Dresden's Technical University told AFP. "Theoretically anyone could have pretended to have been the gunman."

Police and politicians all over Germany were speaking of a "nasty hoax" and the website in question also said that the press had been "unfortunately fooled," but for Clausz this is not conclusive.

"There is also the possibility it was actually him," Clausz said, since it is possible that he had held the chat but removed all traces that it came from his PC.

"It's just so hard to verify the truth."

Hartmut Pohl, a data security expert at Bonn's technical college, agreed.

"There is absolutely no way of determining what is authentic and what isn't", Pohl told AFP. "In this day and age, media manipulation has become a norm and there is no way of avoiding this."

Pohl said that the truth could have been manipulated in so many ways.

"I even know of a case of the police manipulating information during an investigation into a case of identity theft in Hamburg," Pohl said, "I'm not saying that the police can't be trusted, but it just takes a single person."

Pohl also said that the police and ministers were not "technicians or experts" and could therefore not be held responsible for the false reports.

In the case of Tim Kretschmer however, a multitude of evidence seems to indicate that the chat was mere fakery.

A Spiegel magazine reporter concluded that the screen shot of the alleged chat, which circulated around the world at an immense speed on Thursday, was a fake because of discrepancies in the reference numbers of the chat entries.

The chat room operators Krautchan.net said: "No killing spree was announced here," and that Tim "visited the site" but "definitely didn't write the post."

They further posted a screen shot of the conversation, showing that the reference number of the supposed chat was actually the six-digit code from a completely unrelated dialogue held on the site.

Guillame Brossard, founder and director of the French website hoaxbuster.com told AFP: "As soon as anything happens that affects everyone, related hoaxes will surface. If you have a news item that interests the whole world, like 9/11 or the tsunami, hoaxes always pop up instantly."

Josie Cox/AFP/Expatica

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