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Hoax blogger admits Citi Bikes not spying on riders

A comedian-blogger's report of surveillance cameras on Citi Bikes was apparently a "hoax."

The mayor and police commissioner confirmed there are no surveillance cameras on Citibikes. Credit: Metro File Photo. The mayor and police commissioner confirmed there are no surveillance cameras on Citi Bikes.
Credit: Metro file photo

A wave of panic tore through the city this week following a report of surveillance cameras embedded in Citi Bikes.

Perhaps that was a bit of an overstatement: A few people were confused and mildly alarmed due to a blog post implicating Citi Bikes as a participant in the surveillance of New Yorkers.

The report, written by acomedian named John Powers, was matter-of-fact and claimed to have discovered the cameras after being knocked off a Citi Bike by a callous cabbie. He defended his claim against skeptics who pointed out that a quote he used about surveillance from Mayor Michael Bloomberg came from an entirely unrelated New York Daily News article.

Another quote attributed to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly could not be found anywhere else and seems unlikely to be true, given the commissioner and the mayor both dismissed out of hand Wednesday morning the possibility of cameras on Citi Bikes.

Shortly thereafter, the blog writer, who had previously insisted on the veracity of his claims, wrote a new post acknowledging that the original post was a hoax.

"If anybody bothered to look at any of my other posts, they would've seen I'm a comedian," the blogger wrote. "I didn't attempt to hide that."

However, after a few lines complaining about surveillance, Bloomberg's controlling tendencies and Anthony Weiner's sexting, he continued: "People said my article was not funny. I agree. It wasn't meant to be funny."

And when commenters on the original post initially expressed doubt, he reposted his story on his Google Plus page with the note: "People are questioning the legitimacy of this article. It's completely true. There are two cameras inside every Citi Bike. They are not reporting this is mayor [sic] news outlets because they are being told not to."

He had earlier claimed that "friends" at NBC "admit they are aware [of the Citi Bike cameras] but can't say so."

Powers told Metro he didn't plan the story as a hoax; he meant to write Onion-esque satire.

"Basically what it blew up into was me being a pariah and trying to capitalize on people's fears, which wasn't really what I intended at all," Powers said.

Powers justified his earlier insistence that the story was true by saying he "only did it for a day."

"I was trying to back it while people were interested in it, but I wasn't really trying to fool anybody," he said.

He blamed careless readers and Twitter users for the post getting such traction.

"I think the fact that 135,000 people saw the blog means that someone was retweeting it and either didn't realize I'm an entertainer or didn't care," he said.

Powers said he's glad he got people riled up about the issue of privacy and surveillance, and noted that though the bikes may not have cameras, they do have GPS devices.

"They know where you shop, they know where you eat," Powers said. "I think it's something people should stop and think about more often."

"We live in one of the most amazing cities in the world," he added, "but it's also one of the most closely monitored cities in the world."

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat

 
 
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