Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Benjamin Vanderford is a video game designer, musician for Record Label Records, and San Francisco resident who created a faked video beheading and propagated it on the Internet. The video was posted on an militant Islamist website, and depicted Vanderford as a hostage, pleading that the United States immediately leave Iraq. The introductory title claimed it was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi "killing an American." FBI special agent LaRae Quy said the FBI "will pursue any and all legal avenues for prosecution. At this point the matter is still under investigation." The FBI has since declined prosecution.
Vanderford is heard saying on the video "if we don't [leave Iraq], everyone is gonna be killed in this way ... I have been offered for exchange for prisoners here in Iraq."
The video was initially released on the Kazaa and Soulseek filesharing networks with titles like "new iraqi execution", the very day that the Nick Berg execution tape was released. People searching for the Nick Berg video on Kazaa might come across the Vanderford video and it would spread in this method. One of the reasons Vanderford stated for creating the video was to test how effective this distribution system would be. It was an anonymous file sharer, not Benjamin Vanderford, who apparently sent it to the Islamist website where it gained mainstream coverage. This technique, of releasing a video simultaneously as a major media event on a peer to peer network, is predicted to become widespread for use by political agitators, and advertisements. When Siegfried and Roy had their unfortunate tiger incident many porn websites tried to capitalize on the event by posting video advertisements on Kazaa under the guise of a "Siegfried and Roy tiger attack!"
In interviews Vanderford gave his reasoning for creating the hoax as follows:
- To illustrate the concept of media concentration, but not because of corporate ownership as is usually the issue, but because of the effects of the wire systems, such as the Associated Press and Reuters. Vanderford knew that if any of the large wire agencies mistakenly believed the video was real, their wire releases would be immediately be broadcast by the wire agency users such as Radio, TV news, and newspapers, even though it was possible for those users to independently view the video (which Vanderford created to be purposefully false looking). Vanderford has compared this to the concept of monoculture of the Microsoft Windows operating system, although he places the blame not on the wire agencies but on their users, who he feels have a cultural of "laziness" prone to uncritically recycling press releases of this kind. Vanderford claims he first encountered this culture when he used false press credentials to sneak into the E3 video game convention, and noticed it amongst the video game journalism community.
- To protest the lack of meaningful dialogue in the mainstream media over the validty of the Nick Berg video, which Vanderford felt looked too falsifiable to be judged as real so immediately by the mainstream media. Although Vanderford himself did not believe the Berg video was fake, nevertheless he felt that the points raised by the Nick Berg conspiracy theories were too compelling to be ignored by the media. For this reason, Vanderford used the same chair in his video as was featured in the Abu Ghraib pictures and the Nick Berg video, he did not show a continuous scene of beheading, but rather showed an edited version where Vanderford already lay dead, and which the camera was always zoomed out. Vanderford has also said that if the media continues to accept such unverifiable videos as real, terrorists would realize that and simply start creating completely fake videos. Vanderford has claimed that this is in line with the modus operandi of groups like Hamas, who he feels spend an inordinate amount of time using Adobe Photoshop to create promotional flyers.
- To illustrate the potential for peer to peer networks to be a completely democratic and decentralized form of communication following a mainstream media story or event. Vanderford knew that those looking for the Nick Berg video would turn to Kazaa and other P2P file sharing programs to find this, allowing an interloper to create falsely named videos to contain whatever statement they might want.
- ABC 7 News
- Ben Vanderford's own words about the incident
- Another video creation by Ben Vanderford
- Great White Hype - Benjamin's rap group
- FAKE hostage video that was aired on Arab TV
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