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5 Fascinating internet hoaxes


1st Jan 2015 Technology

5 Fascinating internet hoaxes

These all fooled the world—but could you seperate fact from fiction?

Hoaxes are nothing new. The world was fooled by the Piltdown Man when its fossilised remains were supposedly unearthed in East Sussex in 1912. History repeated itself in 1957 when, on the April 1, TV programme Panorama reported “an exceptionally heavy spaghetti crop”.  Nothing changed when crop circles started to appear in the 1970s.  In the 1990s we were duped again when Ray Santilli released fake military footage of an alien autopsy— the alien had supposedly crash-landed in a flying saucer near Roswell, New Mexico in 1947.

The Internet has provided hoaxers with a mechanism to spread their hoaxes faster…but they also come under far more scrutiny sooner. This is why a successful internet hoax all the more remarkable.


Bicholim conflict

Biocholim conflict
Image via A Mon Seul Desir

This hoax involved the Bicholim Conflict of 1640–1641, which was an armed conflict between the Portuguese rulers of Goa and the Maratha Empire led by Shivaji Bhonsle in the northern regions of Goa. The conflict lasted from mid-1640 to early 1641, when the Maratha Confederacy and the Portuguese signed a treaty by which they would respect the pre-existing Maratha–North Goa boundary.

According to the Wikipedia article, “Portuguese traders set up Goa as their first trading port in India in 1498, when Vasco da Gama created a route through Goa. By 1542, the areas of Velhas Conquistas were enjoying higher elements of prosperity. Those that converted to Christianity were given extra privileges in comparison with those that opted to remain Hindu or Muslim. In 1560, the Goa Inquisition was established and 4,000 people were arrested for heresy in the first few years alone.

All very interesting, but complete and utter fabrication—the Bicholim Conflict is a work of fiction. Despite this, the 4,500-word article remained on Wikipedia’s website for five years.  It was labeled a “Good Article” by Wikipedia editors, and it was even nominated for the site’s Featured Article of the Day.

What made it believable was the extensive referencing, the inclusion of photographs, maps and illustrations, pseudo links to other historical references and the quality of the writing.  Someone had too much time on their hands.  Who?  No one knows—the hoaxer has never been found.


The iOnion

The iOnion
Image via Viral Nova

In 2008 a video was released on YouTube showing an iPhone being recharged using an onion.  It was created by HouseholdHacker, and was watched millions of times within weeks.  The claim was repeated on several reputable websites including an Unofficial Apple Weblog.

The hoax was unearthed when intrepid bloggers and journalists tested the theory—it simply doesn’t work.


Prehistoric spiders

Spider in Iraq
Image via Wonders World

In 2004 a photo appeared showing the corpse of huge “prehistoric” spider alongside some troops in Iraq.  It was claimed to be a foot in length with a top speed of 25 miles an hour.  Sympathy for those stationed in Iraq was already high—desert heat, roadside bombs, far from home—this photo only added to the nation’s admiration of “our boys”.

Needless to say, the angle and perspective of the photo were misleading.  Such spiders exist—but they’re small and relatively slow.


Reddit serial killer

Reddit serial killer
Image via Mashable

The Reddit serial killer hoax was a second historical hoax perpetrated by “Lying about the past” class—a course taught by Professor Mills Kelly at George Mason University.

The Reddit hoax, about an alleged serial killer named Joseph Scafe, was launched on on April 28, 2012.  The participating students created a fictional character called Lisa Quinn, and under her name opened a blog entitled: "I think my uncle was a serial killer." In her blog, Lisa wrote that she found some odd items in a Saratoga steamer trunk that she received upon the death of her grandparents. Lisa posted pictures of the trunk, ladies shoes and newspaper clippings from 1895—one of which was about the murder of Alice Walsh.  According to Lisa's post, the trunk belonged to a relative, Joseph Scafe, (also called “Uncle Joe”), and that it contained—in a false panel—ladies' jewellery and a "disturbing" journal.

The hoax didn’t last too long.  Doubts were cast within an hour of its appearance.


Lonely girl 15

Lonely girl 15
Image via Business Insider

In June 2006 videos started appearing on YouTube reportedly from a lonely girl.  The videos showing a 16-year-old girl opining about life from her bedroom became hugely popular.  It was the studio quality of the videos that first arose suspicion.

In September 2006 the creators came clean.  More recently the “series” which ran until August 2008 has been called “an interactive web-based video series”.  Lonelygirl15 (Bree) was in fact the New Zealand actress Jessica Rose.

Being uncovered as a hoax didn’t seem to do the series any harm—it was viewed over 100 million times.

Read about how to see through an internet hoax with Seeing Through Internet Hoaxes which is available on Amazon.

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