The editor of ValleyWag has acknowledged that a post blaming a "drunk employee" for this week's data center outage at 365 Main was inaccurate. "I was wrong," ValleyWag Editor Owen Thomas wrote Thursday. "I trusted a source I shouldn't have." Thomas said the erroneous tip was sent to him over AOL Instant Messenger from a man who said he worked at a "large software company." Thomas checked to see that an employee by that name worked for the company, and then posted an item on ValleyWag detailing the tipster's claim that a drunken employee damaged equipment, causing an outage that knocked many popular sites offline. In reality, several generators at 365 Main's San Francisco data center failed to start when the facility lost grid power.
Thomas said he was a victim of a prank. "I've since learned that the tipster has associations with a band of hackers who delight in social engineering, the art of using technical means to get human beings to do their bidding," Thomas writes. "I'm told by people close to the hacker group that they do this kind of thing for sheer amusement. That they enjoy harassing people in the Web 2.0 world."
In posting the report from his IM correspondent, Thomas handed the pranksters a large megaphone. The initial post was widely read on Tuesday, as it was picked up by news aggregators and linked from dozens of blogs tracking the outage, which left several major blog services and Web 2.0 sites offline. The post appeared on Digg and Slashdot, generating a large volume of traffic for Valleywag, which is owned by the Gawker Media blog network (best known for Gawker and Wonkette sites). Valleywag's statistics show that the "drunk employee" item was read more than 129,000 times. As of 9:30 pm EST Thursday, Thomas' retraction had been read just 4,300 times.
While acknowledging that the story was inaccurate, Thomas continued to rationalize the decision to post it, saying he is "experimenting in a new medium and a new style of journalism." He also continued to criticize 365 Main, declaring that until the company "releases its surveillance videos to back up their version of events, you should continue to doubt them, too."
Here's our experience: Within 12 hours of the outage, 365 Main had shared a preliminary incident report detailing the generator problems, which it posted on the company web site early Wednesday, and has since updated with additional detail. Given the choice, I'll doubt ValleyWag.