Independent on Sunday, London, Oct. 24, 1999 (Magazine section, p. 62). Copyright Marek Kohn. All rights reserved.

Second site Erroneous zones - Marek Kohn

ON PAPER, typing errors often lead to embarrassment, but they don't generally tip the culprit into a sea of depravity. On-line, by contrast, careless keystrokes can leave the innocent surfer facing graphic invitations to indulge in a range of "adult" multimedia experiences. The trick is to register an address which is almost the same as that of a site which receives very heavy traffic - for example, that of a major computer products supplier. A small proportion of would-be visitors will mistype the address, and find themselves looking at a porn site front page.

Prevailing mores and the balance of the sexes among Net users being what they are, enough of these accidental visitors will linger and purchase to make the exercise worthwhile. At least these punters at least know that they have ended up somewhere very dif- ferent from the place they set out to reach. Would-be visitors to the site of Austria's right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPO), which took nearly a third of the vote in recent elections, may find them- selves wondering just where they have ended up. That, presumably, is the intention of the anonymous activists who have copied and altered the FPO site.

The Net is built on American characters, which lack, umlauts, so the party's initials could be rendered either as "fpo" or as "fpoe". The FPO opted for the latter, leaving the former open to subversion.

Its leader, Jorg Haider is not the only politician to have had the text of his website twisted by his opponents. An outfit calling itself the CounterProductivity Commission has pirated the site of Jeff Kennett, the Liberal premier of the Australian state of, Victoria, and sliced his graphics into ribbons. In America, Republican Presidential hopeful George W Bush was needled by a parody site which aired questions about whether he had used cocaine in the past. New York's mayor, Rudy Giuliani, is another victim of satirical piracy.

Both the Bush and the Giuliani parodies are associated with an outfit called RTmark (pronounced artmark) which portrays itself as a foundation that bankrolls anti-corporate stunts.

The rogue Giuliani site is all the more effective for using not only his Web pages, transferred from his official site, but also his own words. Whereas politicians may be able lay claim to copyright material such as Web pages, their public utterances are in the public domain from the word go. Using their quotes against them is an old trick, but it works just as well in new media as in inky pamphlets.

A trick that distinguishes the new media satirists from the old, is their use of the link, though its effectiveness as a satirical device is debatable. Satire by link is easy by merely setting up a 1ink, you use other sites to make your point. For instance, in the real FPO site, there is a list of links to party branches and offshoots, but in the fake version, some international links are added, which include a Ku Klux Klan site and neo-Nazi site called Stormfront. Similar tactics are used in the policy section: the message is that if you scratch the Freedom Party, you'll find a Nazi Party underneath. Although doubtless annoying to the Freedom Party (RTMark reports that legal moves are afoot in the us, where the parody's host computer is located) this parody hardly constitutes much of a political challenge. And the effect of creating Nazi links is different from daubing swastikas on the party's posters. If the Freedom Party's sympathisers are who the parodists think they are, they will only be grateful for links to sites that reinforce their prejudices.

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