UPDATE 13:50 UTC: This article has been updated to rectify inaccuracies in our original reporting.
CoinDesk has become the apparent victim of a Telegram hoax, in which an unknown individual sought to spread misinformation by posing as Ted Livingston, CEO of messaging startup Kik.
CoinDesk regrets the error and the publication of the original story.
The company has since said that Livingston was on an international flight from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Washington, D.C., en route to Toronto, at the time CoinDesk believed it was speaking to the executive and was not making use of the available internet connection.
Livingston was not immediately available for comment, but did issue a message on Twitter denying he was considering leaving the company over stresses from ongoing legal action against U.S. regulators. It read: “I just landed in Washington. I took off from Tel Aviv 12 hours ago. This is obviously fabricated. I’m not sure how Coindesk could make such an obvious mistake, but we’ll find out.”
The company has provided Livingston’s official Telegram username, which is not the account with which CoinDesk communicated.
In the wake of news Kik had laid off the majority of its Israel-based development team, our reporter sought to contact representatives of the company, finding a Telegram handle operating under the username “Ted E Bear” and bearing the likeness of Livingston.
In response to questions about the incident at the company, the account provided what appeared to be official statements on the news that Kik is shutting down. At the time, our reporter contacted representatives of Kik to verify the statements given on Telegram.
Press messages to Livingston’s Kik email, as well as the company’s formal press and contact emails went unreturned.
A Kik representative later reached out to clarify part of the story that indicated the Kin Foundation was shutting down along with the Kik messenger, as stated in our original article. The article was corrected to indicate only the Kik messenger is shutting down, not the non-profit overseeing its cryptocurrency KIN.
The company did not indicate at the time that Livingston was traveling or raise suspicion about the language used in the article that suggested our reporter had talked to the CEO.
The messages issued by the false account were identical to those from a Medium post issued by Livingston in the wake of the news, describing the number of monthly active users at the company and affirming Kik’s stance that the move was the result of its ongoing battles with the SEC.
The account later sent a message in which it appeared Livingston was attempting to tell an investor he was considering leaving his role as CEO and that steps may be taking place to transition the operations of the company to other senior leaders. The message was later deleted.
When asked about the message, the account indicated it had “no comment” and asked that the reporter “keep anything to [themselves].”
Our reporter did not make an additional attempt to contact Kik. He did make an attempt to contact board member and investor William Mougayar, to whom the deleted text was seemingly addressed, though messages were not returned.
After the story was published, the name on the Telegram account changed to “R Mo,” at which time the image on the account was replaced with an image of “Magic Internet Money Wizard,” a long-standing bitcoin meme.
The account wrote:
“Dude you gotta pull that story. I’m not Ted, never claimed to be. You assumed. Just an internet member of a decentralized unofficial comms channel. That is a fan channel that shitposts not the kin channel.”
We are reviewing our guidelines for “Reporting Using Online Tools and Messaging Forums” and may make further changes to our policies in light of the incident.
Kik CEO Ted Livingston image via YouTube/Kin Ecosystem Foundation