Today the euroblogosphere was receiving more attention than it’s used to, thanks to a surprising visit from Mr. Bean on the EU presidency’s web site. But now it’s turned into a war of words between bloggers – who insist they saw the image – and Spain – which insists no such image ever appeared.
I myself didn’t become aware of the story until late this afternoon, after an entire day of being frustrated by attempts to open the Spanish EU presidency’s web site and having them time out. Spain took over the rotating EU presidency from Sweden on 1 January*, and I had to write a story about their platform but couldn’t access their documents. As soon as I opened my twitter account I could see why. Everyone in Brussels was tweeting about ‘Beangate’, commenting both on the hack itself and the enormous amount of media attention it was receiving.
As far as I can tell, euroblogger Julien Frisch was the first to notice that when he went to open the new Spanish EU presidency web site (www.EU2010.es), he found a giant image of Mr. Bean staring back at him. The web site had apparently been hacked by some pranksters poking fun at the Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Zapatero’s resemblance to the British comedy character. Julien wrote about it and included a screen grab, other blogs picked it up, and pretty soon Spain’s El Mundo reported what the blogs were saying. The story took on added significance when the paper reported that the cash-strapped Spain had spent 12 million euros on the web site, so the fact that it could be hacked so easily was both astonishing and enraging for many Spaniards. Pretty soon other media outlets in the UK, Germany, France, Australia and even the US were reporting on it as well. The huge rush of traffic to the site by the curious soon caused it to crash, and that’s why I wasn’t able to access it today.
But then things got a bit more complicated. The Spanish government released an official statement denying that the site had been hacked, saying that the image circulated on the blogs must be a photoshopped faked. The original bloggers who posted the story vehemently denied this.
So what happened? At the moment, it’s still a bit unclear. But according to an excellent blog post by Joe Litobarski, it’s possible that both the bloggers and the Spanish government are right. He cites Spanish computer professional Marcelino Madrigal as saying that it is true that the website itself was never hacked. Instead, links to the website were apparently manipulated with cross site scripting to inject content into the site. So anyone following those links would have seen the image of Mr. Bean, but at no point would anyone who accessed the site directly with www.eu2010.es have been greeted with Mr. Bean.
As far as I know so far there hasn’t been any new statement issued by the Spanish government explaining this, which might be nice since their first statement basically called the bloggers liars. Either way they’ve got to be fuming over there right now. Assuming that these were links that were followed to the site, it shouldn’t be hard to find out who perpetrated this prank, and considering the wide media exposure and the crashing of the website I would be shocked if Spain doesn’t take legal action against them. This is definitely not the way they wanted to be starting their presidency period. It made them look quite incompetent, especially in comparison to the smooth operations of the Swedish presidency before them (I was making complaints to that effect earlier in the day before I knew about Beangate). This prankster probably won’t think this is so funny when his legal bills start piling up.
*In case you’re confused, yes there is still a rotating EU presidency held by countries. The new president Herman Van Rompuy is only the president of the European Council, which is composed of all the heads of state of Europe. The Council of Ministers, composed of all the various ministers throughout Europe, will still be headed by a country presidency. In this regard the country presidency will likely be more influential than the person president.