How a bit a humour can get you arrested – The chronicle of an exaggeration in the Greek Media

Dimitrios Fotiou is a Greek artist. Inspired by the latest developments in Greece concerning illegal student transfers from one university to the other, people paying to get a job in the civil service and MPs calling in favours to secure a position for their voters he created Dirty Works Greece.
Dirty Works Greece (DWG) was a website of a company – too ludicrous to be true – which claimed the ability to influence students’ transfers, results of the civil service entrance examinations and job offers in the civil service. It had a small history of the company, description of services and finally a form where the visitor could enter his/hers details, give a credit card number and select which service they wanted. The website also had pictures of prominent Greek politicians holding envelopes marked DWG – an obvious picture manipulation even for the untrained eye.
Bottom right corner though there was a link to a disclaimer from the artist. In the disclaimer Dimitrios Fotiou declared that the website was intended as art. This is a translation of that disclaimer

Note
DWG | Dirty Works Greece is a website that belongs in the sphere of net.art. This website refers to the official profile of a VIRTUAL company. The inspiration came from unofficial and official opinions of citizens for the Greek reality. The creator of this website accepts no responsibility for the possibility of the visitors’ gullibility.
More information
© Copyright 2004 D. Fotiou

I should mention here that it took 2 minutes not only to realise that this was a hoax but also to take a look at the code and see that one’s credit card details were stored absolutely nowhere. Also, if one tried to enter bogus details (e.g. credit card number: 010101) the form still appeared to be working – another proof that it was not valid. Still the data were sent – even though not saved – and this is were legally he is in trouble. But this is a legal issue and I am not lawyer. But I know Media.
Apparently the Greek Media, not only 4th Estate in social studies but The Power in Greece in their own right took it to heart to wiggle out this bad seed, this “impostor” who tried to “steal” people’s money. It started with a newspaper in Thessaloniki trying to sell it off as their BIG scoop and went on to become a scandal through publications in most daily newspapers and in almost all Greek television channels including the state owned ones. Even APN (Athens Photo News) published the story “New Case of Internet Fraud”. A few hours later they are the only ones who published doubts over the story changing the title to “New Case of Internet Fraud (or Fun?)”

After that entire 4th Estate hubbub what could the poor Greek Police do other than arrest the man? So Dimitrios Fotiou was arrested today, his computer, notes and other material, seized by the police. Our point though is not a legal one. Our point is about the Media charade.

I am translating just a few lines from the media coverage so far (my gratitude to Histologion for posting some of them in the Greek edition of the blog)

Flash
The amount that the perpetrator has amassed has not yet been confirmed but the police think it is huge. The perpetrator, when he was arrested, declared that his webpage is a work of web art and that… he is expecting the Art Museum to express its interest!
[exclamation mark and … as in the original]

Sky
The police officers are not yet sure for the amount, as the victims have not yet received the credit card statements.

This blog has only discovered ONE well – researched article in the newspaper Eleftherotipia by Kostas Kyriakopoulos. The article explained clearly that the website was supposed to be funny but that by law the Greek police will need to investigate whether the owner kept credit card details or not.

What amazes even the casual observer is not the legal point but the Media frenzy. Like hungry children given the key to a candy store the Greek Media lost every sense of shame – not to mention journalistic ethos – and jumped to conclusions without consulting the creator, any programmers who could look at the code, or even Internet users who were exchanging the link in e-mails as a joke.

Who are those irresponsible journalists and even worse who are those Editors who allow the smearing of one’s reputation? I don’t believe that they are stupid. I maintain that they knew the website was supposed to be funny. But what sells more newspapers? A funny website or a huge internet fraud?

In times when the credibility of the press and of journalism in general is in jeopardy and in times when techno-phobia rules we have these… excuses for reporters exaggerating the news or simply creating them.

But you see I don’t think any one of those journalists bothered to pick up the phone. They received an Press Release, changed three words and published it.

All hail the media.

LINKS (most in Greek – my apologies)

Blogs
Histologion – GR First post on the matter
Histologion – GR Second post presenting and analysing the arrest and the media coverage
The Reality Tape Coverage of the issue

Online news sources
Thess.gr – The first explanation and research into the matter
Flash.gr – Article supporting the fraud claim
Sky Radio – Article supporting the fraud claim
APN – Article initially supporting the fraud claim later on presenting the humourous side as well
ERT (Greek state TV) – Article supporting the fraud claim

Dirty Works
Full explanation of the work by the artist

—————-
Links and explanations are correct at the time of this post’s publication. Any later corrections or additions i cannot vouch for.

—————-
UPDATE 23: 40

Histologion (english edition) – Article on the matter
—————-
UPDATE 15 Feb 05 – 21:00

Anatomy of melancholy (english edition) – Article on the matter
Greek newspaper Kathimerini (english edition) – Article 1 and Article 2
Greek newspaper Eleftherotipia (greek edition) – Another well researched article

I am adding this note to clear things up: After various discussions in the Greek Blogosphere with programmers and people who are more code-savvy than me it turns out that the form that asked for people’s credit card details and supposedly sent them to the “fraudster” was sending no data whatsoever.
You can see all the pages at Google’s cache and check for yourselves.

5 comments to How a bit a humour can get you arrested – The chronicle of an exaggeration in the Greek Media

  • na

    This is a perfect example of an artist crowned by success; he achieved after all an important, and not to be taken lightly, role of contemporary art, to spur controversy. Even in a classical interpretation of his art he arranged, execetuted and managed his subject-matter perfectly. Setting up his model (society), in the perfect setting (well Greece!) in very good lighting that revealed the form in full detail (the media) and with great realism (the internet, well maybe we should call it hyper-realism..)recorded and portrayed his theme perfectly in history and time! What more can an artist hope for?! ;-)

  • From an artistic point of view I will agree with you.
    Still I thought that we have moved away from the time when the artist had to cut of his ear, kill somebody or die to get some attention.
    Plus the media calling you an artist is one thing. Calling you a criminal quite another.

  • anonymous

    Geez. I found this because Metafilter are still linking to me and there’s mention of this sordid incident in that thread.

    This is unbelievable. As if I will not publish this too. And try to raise the guy and see what his current situation is.

    Greece: a country in a LOT of trouble. This is unbelievable! And you know what makes it worse – what almost proves his point? It’s obvious, isn’t it?

    * The number of people who willingly signed up to take part in the normal everyday activity in Greece: BRIBERY. Except now it was online. *

    This guy is a poet. They should nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize or something. Bloody brilliant thing it was.

    Cheers.

  • [...] On a personal note I believe Antonis – not least because a similar ‘misunderstanding’ has happened between an artist with an internet project and the Greek Police. [see details here and here] [...]

  • [...] On a personal note I believe Antonis – not least because a similar ‘misunderstanding’ has happened between an artist with an internet project and the Greek Police. [see details here and here] [...]

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