Here's how easy it is to become the most hated person on the internet: An innocent high schooler has had her life turned upside down after a hacker put her name in a potent Facebook worm that told people to kill themselves.
If you were browsing Facebook late Wednesday night, you might have found this jarring message spammed all over your newsfeed:
"Fuck you faggot. Go kill yourself. Vote for Nicole Santos. I hate you and the only way to remove all these posts is by disabling this below."
But clicking "remove this app" let the worm access your account and spammed your friends with the same message. Facebook quickly fixed the bug that the worm exploited, and by late Thursday morning the Nicole Santos worm was dead. But not before tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of people were left wondering "Who the hell is Nicole Santos?" It was a powerful worm.
The Nicole Santos worm turned into the Nicole Santos meme: "Nicole Santos" trended on Twitter for hours Thursday morning. The Facebook page "FUCK Nicole Santos" quickly garnered over 20,000 "likes"; an Etsy user is selling five varieties of "Vote for Nicole Santos T-shirts" while a YouTube user produced a Nicole Santos parody rap song in astonishingly short order, which now has over 7,000 views.
The potency of the meme sprung from the mystery of the girl: Just a name. Thousands of "Nicole Santos" are on the Internet. Which one was her? Did she even exist, or was she just the whim of the hacker who invented the worm?
A cruel portrait of Nicole Santos began to emerge as blogs and newspapers picked up the story: In the internet's imagination, Nicole Santos was a young woman running for something—speculation ranged from prom queen, to class president, to Miss Brazil USA. She had hijacked Facebook as a campaign tool, roping innocent Facebook users into her quest for global domination.
Now, people are not happy with Nicole Santos. "I hope this bitch goes down like osama bin ladin (sic)," writes one user on the "FUCK Nicole Santos page." Another poster: "She was probs trying ta just grab attention and annoy everyone????? What a desperate fuck?????" The gay blogosphere was outraged at the homophobic slurs Nicole Santos employed.
Nobody thinks about things for more than one second on the Internet, but even that is enough time to realize that no one would think spamming thousands of people with "go kill yourself" is a good way to win support. Nicole Santos wasn't the perpetrator: She was the hack's biggest victim.
Nicole Santos does exist. She's a high school student in Northern California running for vice president of her class. We spoke to one of her friends who said at around 11pm Wednesday night he noticed the "fuck you faggot" message posted to dozens of his friends' accounts. He called Nicole who was "really surprised" by what was happening. "Nicole Santos was NOT involved with the hack," he said. In fact he started a whole Facebook page to explain the fact.
It's unclear how Nicole became associated with the "Nicole Santos" worm. Another friend says Nicole suspects the hacker somehow came across her vice presidential campaign poster on her Tumblr blog (above) and decided to put it in his virus. They then targeted Facebook users at Nicole's high school, and a few hours later it had spread all over the world.
The "Nicole Santos" hacker's identity remains a mystery, but it's probably someone who has no stake in the real Nicole's life. Online rumors put the hacker in both Wisconsin and Boston. They say he was a dumb script kiddie ripping-off of an expert hacker's Facebook worm, and that the hack stemmed from drama in the online game MapleStory. 4chan probably factors in there somewhere.
All this has had real impact on the real Nicole's life, even if most people hating on her are just mad at some abstract concept of "Nicole Santos". "She is still in shock," said one friend. Nicole had to delete her Facebook profile after she was flooded with friend requests, hate mail and death threats. Her school is buzzing about the classmate who "went viral," according to Tumblr posts from students.
As for her vice presidential campaign: From what we gather, Nicole Santos is a very responsible, totally sweet person who would never hack Facebook. Vote for Nicole Santos.