August 1, 2008

‘Karadzic’ Site Deceived Journalists

By Noam Cohen

It was not hard, in the end, to figure out that the Web site was a hoax, however tantalizing the site was for reporters eager to fill out details on the fugitive life of Radovan Karadzic, the Bosnian Serb leader reincarnated as a hippie guru of alternative healing.

Any public search of the site,, could have shown that the Web address had been registered after Karadzic was arrested last week on charges of war crimes. And, oddly enough, a returning visitor would have noticed that it was being updated while he was in jail.

Still, the site - with a brief biography, conveniently in English and Serbian, along with some favorite Chinese proverbs - became, in the days after the arrest, a prime source of information for newspapers and Web sites around the world.

On Wednesday, in a first and pretty much virtual interview, a person who claimed responsibility for the site said that had been his precise intent.

The hoaxer identified himself as Tristan Dare, and described himself as a "media artist who specializes in masterminding viral 'guerrilla style' interactive online performances." He said he was a "citizen of the world, and currently resides in the global village."

He agreed to be interviewed, but only via e-mail, after being reached at the randomized e-mail address assigned to the person who registered His identity could not be confirmed.

He would not speak over the phone, but laid out a chronology of the site's creation and editing, and had meticulously tracked his viral experiment across the media landscape with a couple of dozen screenshots of news Web sites, from Poland to China to Japan, that referred to the site.

The details, he said, were meant to draw in journalists and other curious Internet users.

He wrote that many bloggers had criticized the design, "because it was simple and rather bland."

"These people don't get it. It was intended to be that way. It was supposed to be a 'personal site' of an 'old man' living in some drab post-Communist country not exactly known for a stellar Web design. It was supposed to be believable."

He said the Internet traffic totals "reached 24,000 by the end of Day 1 (July 22), to 180,000 visitors on Day 2 (July 23)." He added, "In those first two days over 1.6 million files from this one-page site were served to automatic server requests," which includes not only accessing the site but also viewing or linking to the photos on the site.

There are the unlikely, but journalistically tempting, details, particularly for a man who is accused of masterminding the slaughter of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.

The site says Dragan Dabic, as Karadzic called himself in hiding, endorsed a holistic health regimen "requiring more than just taking care of the various singular components that make up the human body. It points out that emotional and spiritual well-being is the key not only for happy, but also healthy life."

His e-mail address was listed as [email protected]

Originally published by The New York Times Media Group.

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