Hoaxes: We’ve all fallen for them at one time or another.
There have always been hoaxes (even before the Internet):
Classic All-Time Hoaxes
1770: The Turk was said to be a chess-playing automaton.
The machine consisted of a life-size model of an adult male, dressed in robes and a turban, as well as a cabinet measuring three feet long, two feet wide, and two and a half feet high, on top of the cabinet rested a chessboard.
- When activated, the machine would go on to play a game of chess against a human opponent, winning more often than not. Capitalizing on the success of the show at Schönbrunn Palace, the Turk went on a tour of Europe throughout the 1780’s, defeating numerous challengers, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Benjamin Franklin.
- It was a complete hoax, while one of the front facing doors held all clockwork gears, there was a hidden compartment in which a chess master would sit, playing and controlling the Turk from within.
FACT: This ingenious hoax fooled the world for almost 100 years.
2. The Cardiff Giant
In 1869, tobacconist and atheist George Hull, after an argument regarding the passage in Genesis 6:4 stating that there were giants who once lived on Earth, devised an elaborate scheme which would come to be regarded as one of the most famous hoaxes in American History.
Hull hired masons to cut out a 10 foot block of gypsum which he claimed would be used for a monument to Abraham Lincoln. He transported the ‘giant’ to Cardiff, New York, where he had it buried .
A year later Newell hired men to dig a well at a specific spot on his property, and on October 16, 1869 they found the stone giant. The giant quickly became an attraction, Newell charged 50 cents for each person that wanted to see it. Hull eventually sold his share of the find for the tidy sum of $23,000 (Roughly equivalent to $400,000 in 2013)
FACT: The giant eventually drew the attention of P.T Barnum, who offered to buy it for $50,000.
3. The Surgeon’s Photograph of the Loch Ness Monster
(Search “The Surgeon’s Photograph” for image)
1934: The most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster, the Surgeon’s Photograph was supposedly taken in 1934 by a respectable British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson. He claimed that while driving past the Loch, he saw something in the water, and just happening to have a camera on hand decided to take some pictures.
FACT: For 60 years people debated over the photograph.
4. War of the Worlds
1938: On Oct. 38, Americans had their regularly scheduled radio broadcast interrupted by breaking news declaring that the Earth was under attack by Martians, many took it to be the truth. Hysteria ensued as thousands panicked, clogging roads, flooding police stations, newspaper offices, and radio stations with calls, or fleeing their homes entirely.
In fact: At the beginning of the show it was stated that the following program would be an adaptation of H.G Wells’ classic, The War of the Worlds, narrated by Orson Welles. Unfortunately, a great many people missed the beginning and only tuned in once the show had begun. So what is arguably the greatest hoax in the history of the world, wasn’t really a hoax at all. Just a case of unfortunate timing.
5. Hitler’s Diaries
1983: Germany’s Stern magazine announced that one of their reporters, Gerd Heidemann, had uncovered possibly the greatest piece of Nazi memorabilia in the world, the diaries of Adolf Hitler.
FACT: Stern paid 9.3 million German marks for the the sixty-two volumes. Within two weeks of Stern’s announcement, the German Federal Archives made an announcement of their own, that the diaries were fakes. Not just fakes, but terrible fakes, printed on modern paper and using modern ink. The editors of Stern resigned within hours.
5 infamous Internet hoaxes
1. Helicopter Shark
2001: This is the first true internet hoax. This image was passed around via email, along with the claim that it was National Geographic’s “Photo of the Year.”
The truth: The image is a composite of two separate images—one of a helicopter performing a training maneuver in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and an image of a great white shark taken in South Africa.
2. Lonely girl 15
2006: a 16-year-old girl began posting video blogs about her everyday life under the YouTube username “lonelygirl15.” The videos began to gain more and more of a following as Bree’s parents supposedly went missing.
The truth: It was outed as fictional four months after it began.
3. How to charge an iPod with an onion
2007: The mostly-joke how-to site Household Hacker hit the big time with their viral video that purportedly demonstrated how to charge an iPod using nothing but an onion and a glass of Gatorade. The got a ton of press and frustrated a lot of people who plugged their electronics into vegetables.
The truth: Busted by the Mythbusters.
4. Bieber goes bald.
2012: A photoshopped image of Entertainment Tonight’s Twitter feed began making rounds on the Internet in fall of 2012. The image showed apparent confirmation that Justin Bieber had been diagnosed with cancer, along with the hashtag #baldforbieber. The hashtag soon appeared with images of fans who had shaved their heads in support.
The truth: Bieber doesn’t have cancer.
5. Taylor Swift and the school for the deaf
2012, “VH1 Storytellers,” Papa John’s, and Chegg launched a competition saying Taylor Swift would perform at the school that received the most votes. Reddit and 4chan jumped at the opportunity to prank another celebrity, and it soon looked like the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing would win.
The truth: After the overwhelming victory, Taylor Swift and her sponsors disqualified the school.
Why people create hoaxes:
- To draw attention to your fraudulent skills.
- To gain financial benefits through deceit.
- Sociopathological hoaxers will either put their bait out and see who falls victim or target specific individuals to vilify or discredit, especially those who pose a threat (paranoia).
- To feed our secret prejudices and beliefs. This is one reason why many forged Old Masters look so ludicrous a generation or two after they were created.
- It’s fun to fool people.