Utter lies about me in TIME Mag.

Steve just alerted me to a post in TIME magazine that includes the most terrifying moment of my life in its “Top Ten Hacks of All Time”.  How on earth did they think this was a “hack”?   Nothing cool or clever happened.  No MIT Deans bailed me out of jail saying “All Tech Men Wear Batteries”.  I was in court for almost a year.  I dropped out of school.  Hack??!

Not only that, but most of what they report is utterly false.  As much as it sickens me to reprint their tripe, here’s the copy so I can break it down line by line [this is such a waste of time, but I feel obliged to respond to this nonsense.  Now that I can talk about it, I can’t just let it stand]

“Terrorist or Techie?”

 

Mike Adaskaveg / Polaris

In 2007, authorities arrested an MIT student at gunpoint in Boston’s Logan International Airport. Her crime? In truth, it was one for the fashion police: while holding five to six ounces of Play-Doh in her hands, the sophomore, as secretary of the MIT Electrical Research Society, arrived at the airport wearing a black sweatshirt decorated with a battery-powered circuit board that lit up to reveal the phrase “Socket to Me.” To authorities, the contraption looked like a bomb — and the Play-Doh like plastic explosives. The student, who was charged with possessing a hoax device, claimed she had no such thing in mind: she was going to the airport to meet her boyfriend. And as for the outfit, it was career day at MIT, she said, and she just wanted to stand out.

  • POINT 1: NO PLAYDOUGH

There was never ever ever any “playdough”.  Who believes this shit?  Someone seriously thinks I was fondling some playdough on the way to the airport???  No, I was in a goddamn hurry to meet my boyfriend and then get home to finish my problem sets.  What’s true is I had a (hard, ceramic!) sculpted flower/fake rose for him.  A flower, for my boyfriend.  Yeah, cute, right?

Additionally, the Boston State Police use playdough in simulations to recognize Semtex (plastic explosives), so it’s really fucking convenient for them to claim this.  Does it worry you that the police at the airport can’t describe the fucking difference between something hard, and “playdough”?  That they would straight-facedly report this to you?  After several hours of consideration?

  • POINT 2: PRESIDENT, THANK YOU

I don’t know where this one comes from.   At the time I was not “secretary”, I was president-elect of the MIT Electronic Research Society.

  • POINT 3: IT WAS A STAR.

While I’m not entirely sure how the author managed to post a photo of my sweatshirt, and at the same time write that I had some sort of scrolling display that showed actual words, it’s obviously false.  The LEDs were basically a flashlight in the shape of a star.  That’s it.  Do you have a flashlight?  Yeah.  Just like that, only dimmer.

  • POINT 4: POLICE KNOW BETTER

The Boston state police bomb squad is good.  They know what electronics are.  They weren’t confused that this might resemble a “bomb” at all.  See Massachusetts’ “wrongful arrest” laws to understand how MA’s police are incentivized to press charges. (Any charges, even made-up charges like “possession of an infernal machine” in my case, or frequently the catch-all “disorderly conduct”)

  • POINT 5: A SWEATSHIRT ISN’T APPROPRIATE TO MAKE YOU STAND OUT AT A CAREER FAIR

Yeah, it’s true I once wore this while walking through a career fair, but the idea that I did so because I needed to make myself stand out is ludicrous, and just one more [intentional?] misinterpretation by the police.  I also wore this same sweatshirt every day of that whole preceding week.  I happened to decide to see what was up at a career fair that happened that week, but wasn’t looking for work particularly.  I wanted to see what cool stuff people were working on, and who comes to recruit at MIT.  So, you should faithfully report that I also wore it to dinner, wore it while studying, wore it while biking between Boston and Cambridge, wore it on the subway, wore it in class, wore it in my research group while building other electronic shirts, wore it to the grocery store, and while doing a whole host of other mundane things related to on campus student-life.

There you have it.  If you know how to get in touch with TIME about posting a retraction, please inform me post haste.

Generally speaking — don’t read TIME, don’t believe papers. I had no idea how wildly inaccurate journalism was until I got covered.  I have unbelievable skepticism for the written word, since.  You must always consider the author, the business model, and the motivations of the people involved.

I’m really agitated after writing this, so I hope it’s been worthwhile to write.  Yet I suspect that the wrong information, the lies (white and otherwise) originally spread by the police, and propagated by lazy journalistic behemoths, will never truly go away.  This drives me pretty crazy, especially when I meet people who get that knowing look and say, “I know you..”  I can tell you with certainty what they’re about to say.  How often does that happen?  We’re past the two year anniversary, and sometimes it’s every day — usually at least several times a week.

Finally, here’s some information I dearly wish I’d had in 2007:

Don’t Talk to Police — it cannot help you (advice from a lawyer!)

BUSTED: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters (long but worthwhile)

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Utter lies about me in TIME Mag.

  1. Pingback: Star Simpson (stars) 's status on Tuesday, 03-Nov-09 15:26:31 UTC - Identi.ca

  2. Alioth

    So, I’m not defending TIME here, but I don’t think most of these are original to them. I definitely heard the playdough and career-fair things a lot in the coverage around when this actually happened.

    • boranj

      Well, they’ve also since been dispelled elsewhere. Failure to do homework on TIME’s part, and as invention of new mistruths (worded light-up display?? wtf!)

      *

  3. photon

    TIME and Newsweek, along with the Boston Herald, aren’t fit to line kitty litter boxes. I question why S^3 maintains a subscription to Newsweek: reading it just leaves me feeling angry and frustrated.

  4. Your story + the Mooninites (please, don’t these people remember Light Bright???) just convinced me that in Boston, blinkenlights = bombs. I guess Wile E. Coyote could show up with an ACME canister bomb and nobody would ever notice, as long as it lacked blinkenlights.

  5. It amazes me that they didn’t contact you. Your homepage is the first google result for “star simpson”. If they didn’t even try, that seems terribly irresponsible.

  6. Hey Star, I am sorry this happened to you. It is maddening and as a print journalist, I feel implicated.
    Roundups like this one, aka “listicles,” are distinguished by their dependence on secondary sourcing and no fact-checking. They are more and more common as journalistic staffs get slashed. Also, people like to click on lists.
    I recently got called out on a mistake that was over a year old–I had referred to the CEO of a company as the “founder” and the real founder contacted me and said, hey, I founded that company, and ran it for 10 years. He had not seen the article before then cause he had retired to Paris! This was also in a listicle situation where I had to report/produce 3500 words within a couple of days.
    Point being, I corrected that sh*t on the web very quickly, and the writer of this story in TIME should be willing/able to do the same if you word your message diplomatically.

    • Hey Anya!

      Thanks — I used TIME’s “contact us” form, (which is what I got when I clicked the author’s name,) simultaneously with posting this.

      As far as I can tell, I am unlikely to see an answer there. At your suggestion, I’ve sought Laura Fitzpatrick’s personal website and am writing her a very diplomatically worded message right now.

      Hope to see this corrected soon — thanks for the heads up!

      *

      • dgold

        hi star – it is possible to get changes by writing/calling them as anya says. getting them to do it based only on factual-ness is probably harder since they are lazy, a personal appeal to the original author would likely be the best bet there. otherwise if you can identify any slanderous statements or copyright abuse it is easier – in those cases just removing it by far the easiest thing for them – otherwise they will start getting calls from your lawyer.

        for example last year the london daily news printed an article that used a photo from our website to illustrate our competitor’s product (seriously!). obviously an unpermitted use of our copyrighted photo.

  7. clamoring

    Thanks for posting this. I’m sorry you’re at the business end of lazy and irresponsible journalists. It makes my heart happy that you wrote to Time. Please post the reply, if it ever comes.

    “You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish” -Feynman

  8. Joseph

    while a retraction is called for – they do not have the same impact as the original story. These stories seem to portray Star in a negative light rather than being about social commentary about public hysteria (and ignorance IMHO).

    I used to follow Jim Cramer on Mad Money until I learned what a farce the entire trading system is. Money is made off of speculation fueled by false media reporting.

    Don’t believe the news – each article can be a tool fashioned for a particular purpose.

  9. anonymous

    if this story just won’t die, you may realize that the ‘star simpson story’ is just a fictional cultural relic. the story may grow to have little to do with you or your life, it just very inconveniently uses your name. as such long term de-associating yourself from the story may be greatly aided by changing your name.

  10. You know that wordpress is a stupid cms ;-)

  11. Regarding your comment “don’t read TIME, don’t believe papers. I had no idea how wildly inaccurate journalism was”… This is SO ABSOLUTELY TRUE.

    Anyone who has had an experience that got reported in the paper will know this. Something happened to my family before (a kidnapping) and the article that reported on it got 80% of the details wrong.

    ALL journalists are effectively sloppy and write from the Nth hand (where N is some large number) point of view.

  12. paranoidpedlar

    I really think you should remove this blog post. I feel that defending yourself just adds fuel to the fire.

    As for people recognizing you, deny any involvement. “Sorry I don’t know what you’re talking about” “You must have me confused with someone else” “Yea a lot of people say I look like her” “she’s my cousin”. Be snobby, “do I know you?”. ” I don’t usually talk to strangers”. Ask your circle of friends, to give the same responses in case they ask them if you’re the “”.

    Send a cease and desist to websites that defame your character. You can write this yourself. I would ask someone from the Electronic Frontier Foundation http://www.eff.org/ to go over this letter. They’re a great organization.

    You would be surprised how easy people that would normally recognize you, even your friends, just by having a different haircut or colour. I really don’t suggest that you do this, and it would only sadden me if you did. But the point that I’m making is that the more you talk about this, the more it will grow. No matter how innocent you are, people are flawed, and flourish in gossip. It doesn’t matter if you are innocent. So talk to your inner circle. These will be your first defense. Ask them not to talk to you about it anymore, and if people ask them, get them to follow the same advice I gave you in quotes.
    Since I gather that you’re a women, use your sex as a tool. Be confident and snobby to would be pests. Giving someone a snob shock will instantly turn on their defenses and emotional response. They probably will reply with a sorry, or you don’t have to be ” “. I don’t want to even give an example of an insult to you.
    Talk to your parents, and recruite them in this defensive. They must deny anything having to do with this from their friends etc.

    Also we could really have fun with this, not to make light of it, but for sake of conversation.
    Gather all your friends over for a party, and online friends you can invite with im or whatever. And spend two hours or whatever spamming the internet with fake information. Blow everything out of proportion. Like April Fools :) . If anyone tries to reference bullshit about you, they will be knees deep in it, and will only be confused and probably frustrated that they can’t seperate fact from fiction, even though they did the same thing in the beginning. Set up facebook groups, blogs, reply’s everything.

    I’m a very honest, and somewhat uncomfortably in most situations. But I have been described from my filipino friend as a “White Tiger”, cute, “but dangerous”.

    Also delete this post. And if you want to contact me you can reach me at gossipledonkey@gmail.com :) You might find my nick says it all. Much love, god bless and Ubuntu!

    P.S I would be very happy to be one of your soldiers.