6.28.2008

An Attack That Came Out of the Ether: Scholar Looks for First Link in E-Mail Chain About Obama

Dr. Danielle Allen of the Institute for Advanced Studies, a genius with two doctorates; one from Harvard and one from Cambridge, went on an electronic treasure hunt who's prize wasn't some chest of gold, but a chest of answers to the biggest mysteries this campaign season: How did the Barack is a Muslim Smear" begin and who started it?

It's a fascinating article in the today's Washington Post, here's the set up:

Laid out before Allen, a razor-sharp, 36-year-old political theorist, was what purported to be a biographical sketch of Barack Obama that has become one of the most effective -- and baseless -- Internet attacks of the 2008 presidential season. The anonymous chain e-mail makes the false claim that Obama is concealing a radical Islamic background. By the time it reached Allen on Jan. 11, 2008, it had spread with viral efficiency for more than a year.

[snip]

As an Obama supporter -- she had met the senator while she worked as a dean at the University of Chicago -- it made her angry. And curious.

"I started thinking, 'How does one stop it?' "

Allen set her sights on dissecting the modern version of a whisper campaign, even though experts told her it would be impossible to trace the chain e-mail to its origin. Along the way, even as her hunt grew cold, she gained valuable insight into the way political information circulates, mutates and sometimes devastates in the digital age.

[snip]

Allen was ideally suited to embark on such a difficult hunt. She boasts two doctorates, one in classics from Cambridge University and the other in government from Harvard University, and won a $500,000 MacArthur "genius" award at the age of 29. Last year she joined the faculty of the institute, the only African American and one of a handful of women at the elite research center, where she works alongside groundbreaking physicists, mathematicians and social scientists. They don't have to teach, and they face no quotas on what they publish. Their only mandate is to work in the tradition of Einstein, wrestling with the most vexing problems in the universe.

[snip]

The use of "their equivalency" and the spelling of "Kuran" instead of "Koran" made the sentence her point of departure.

That search showed that the first mention of the e-mail on the Internet had come more than a year earlier. A participant on the conservative Web site FreeRepublic.com posted a copy of the e-mail on Jan. 8, 2007, and added this line at the end: "Don't know who the original author is, but this email should be sent out to family and friends."

read the entire story to find out who it leads too | digg story

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