Yes, the October Surprise Web Site Was Just An Obnoxious Rickroll

Two web developers tricked the Internet into believing they had sensitive documents about a presidential candidate.

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A web site called "October Surprise" successfully bamboozled Internet denizens this weekend, promising a dump of sensitive documents relating to one of the presidential candidates, but instead greeting visitors to the site on Sunday with the infamous Rick Astley music video. 

The site's prank used one of the longest-running jokes on the Web, a bait and switch tactic infamously known as "rickrolling."

And yet October Surprise kept hundreds on Twitter enthralled for days. The site featured a dramatic countdown clock set to run out at 5:30 p.m. EST Monday, while a Twitter account associated with the site gave coy responses to questions about whether the documents were Mitt Romney's tax returns or something damning about President Obama.

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"One of your presidential candidates isn't being honest with you. Stay tuned to find out which one it is," the site promised.

Website advertising an "October surprise" ended up being a joke.
Website advertising an "October surprise" ended up being a joke.

The community web site Fark, however, was skeptical of October Surprise from the outset. Using a reverse IP address search, users of Fark identified the site's creators as Jeffrey Hopwood and Anthony Maro, two Chicago-area web developers who had designed a Radiohead fan site in 2007 later dubbed "The Greatest Rickroll Ever." That site, which also featured a countdown clock, promised information on the latest Radiohead album when the clock ran out, leading more than 20,000 people to sign up only to find themselves greeted by the Rick Astley video.

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This time around, the two developers — who have now acknowledged their involvement in October Surprise to Politicker — put up the Astley video a day before the supposed document dump, along with this message: "Sorry folks. Did NOT expect this level of interest. Apologies! Jokes! Vote! Sorry for the most predictable rickroll ever."

Though the pranksters seemed contrite Sunday, by Monday the countdown clock had started all over again. Seeing the clock, some Twitter users believed Monday that the October Surprise was still coming. Others thought the rickroll was funny. "Thank you to @Octsurprise and @rickastley for proving I'm way too stressed about this election," one Chicago area user wrote.

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  • Elizabeth Flock is a staff writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook or reach her at eflock@usnews.com.