"If it's on the Internet, it must be true," goes the sarcastic adage that highlights how unreliable a lot of the information on the Internet is. And despite the fact that practically everyone knows that the World Wide Web abounds with deception, netizens continue to be fooled by Internet scams and hoaxes. Proof of this happening stares us in the face almost every day; we all have that one (or more) social networking contact who seems to make a hobby out of posting articles containing spurious information. And the likes, retweets and shares obtained by such materials only serve to highlight that gullibility seems to be a common characteristic among many Internet users.
Here are ten Internet hoaxes that were highly successful in fooling the world:
10 #BaldForBieber (2012)
On October 22, 2012, a a screenshot made to appear like an official tweet from the Entertainment Tonight account spread like wildfire. It announced that teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber had been diagnosed with cancer and suggested that fans shave their heads in support of him, hence the hashtag #BaldForBieber. Tribute videos, a website, and Facebook pages further circulated the rumor, reportedly causing a few diehard fans, most of them female, to actually shave their heads and tweet pictures of themselves with their bald crowns. Fortunately, the hoax was short-lived as various sources immediately revealed that trolls on 4Chan had started it.
9 The Last Tourist (2001)
After the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, a picture began circulating on the Internet. It was purportedly discovered in a camera found among the debris of the fallen towers. It showed a man, dressed for cold weather, standing on the observation deck of the World Trade Center while a plane could be seen flying towards his direction. The man was dubbed "The Last Tourist" as he was supposedly the last visitor photographed before the famous buildings were toppled. However, at the peak of the picture's popularity as a symbol of the horrors of 9/11, Hoaxapedia exposed the photograph as a fraud by pointing out its inconsistencies. These include, how the plane was not the same as the one that had crashed into the South tower, how it was coming from the wrong direction, and how the observation deck was closed at the time of the attack, among others.
Later, a 25-year-old Hungarian man named Péter Guzli came forward as the man in the picture. He admitted that the photo was taken on November 28, 1997 and that he was also responsible for editing the image just so he could show it to a few friends. However, the picture, along with a story attached to it, quickly went viral. And while many were disgusted by the insensitivity of the hoax, "the last tourist" nevertheless became a feature of several memes that showed Guzli in various other historical events, including J.F.K's assassination and the Hindenburg disaster.
8 The Ban on Drunk Internet Use (1994)
The Internet is often called an "information superhighway", so it would make sense to regulate drunk web surfing, right? That's what some members of the U.S. Congress thought in April of 1994 as Bill #040194 was filed to make using the internet while drunk or discussing sexual matters over a public network illegal -- or so claimed "PC Computing" magazine. The bill number should've been enough of a clue, as it indicated the date of April Fools' Day in 1994, plus the contact person was listed as Lirpa Sloof -- "April Fools" spelled backwards. Nevertheless, some readers didn't pick up the hints and ended up clogging the phone lines of Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was rumored to be the sponsor of the bill.
7 The Derbyshire Fairy (2007)
This one was also an April Fools' Day prank, but it cost someone who bought the hoax a total of £280 in an Internet auction. The stunt was carried out by Dan Baines, a 31-year-old illusion designer for a group of magicians from London. A couple of days before April Fools' Day in 2007, Baines posted images on his website that supposedly documented the remains of a mummified fairy that was discovered by a dog walker in Derbyshire. The pictures showed the corpse to have wings, skin, and teeth, and Baines bolstered his claim by stating that the remains had "been examined by anthropologists and forensic experts" who had confirmed the find as genuine. Surprisingly, fairy believers ate up the story and flooded Baines's email with inquiries. In fact, even after Baines had revealed the stunt to be an April Fools' Day hoax, several believers proceeded to accuse him of covering up the authenticity of the remains.
6 The Twerker on Fire (2013)
In September of 2013, at the peak of the popularity of the twerking trend that Miley Cyrus had triggered, a video entitled "Worst Twerk Fail EVER - Girl Catches Fire!" was posted on YouTube. The short clip, showing a girl catching fire after her handstand twerk was innocently interrupted by someone entering the room, immediately went viral, garnering nine million views in less than a week. Aside from ordinary people sharing their opinions on what the video said about society, prominent members of the press also chipped in their two cents' worth. For example, Whoopi Goldberg of "The View" opined, "I do believe the look on her face is... she panicked."
However, around a week after the controversial video was posted on YouTube, Jimmy Kimmel dropped a stunning revelation on his show:
Well, Kimmel certainly proved his point: most people are more easily fooled than they think.
5 Free Money from Bill Gates (1997)
Who wouldn't love getting money for doing practically nothing? Of course everyone wouldn't mind making some extra bucks with little effort! That's the aspect of human nature that the designers of several Bill Gates hoaxes have taken advantage of since 1997. The elements of the pranks vary, but what's common among them is that they all claim that billionaire Bill Gates is willing to give away money to people who forward information about the scheme. Needless to say, none of the schemes are actually approved by Bill Gates.
4 Human Fetus Soup in Asia (2001)
In 2001, an email about restaurants in Asia serving human fetus soup was widely circulated. The text varied across versions of the email, but the pictures and the narrative remained the same. Here's one version:
Oh !! Oh !! How cruel can humans be???Please finish your meal before open the files....What u are going to witness here is a fact, don't get scared !" It's Taiwan's hottest food..." In Taiwan, dead babies or fetuses could be bought at $50 to $70 from hospitals to meet the high demand for grilled and barbecued babies ...What a sad state of affairs!!Please forward this msg to as many people as u can so it can be seen by the world and someone takes action on the same
Whether or not eating human fetuses exists or ever existed anywhere in the world is still being debated, but the pictures attached to the 2001 email are certainly not proof of the practice. They're actually photographs taken by Chinese performance artist Zhu Yu, who staged the shocking conceptual piece, "Eating People", at a 2000 Shanghai arts festival. The "fetus" he ate was created by placing what is likely a doll's head on a duck's carcass.
3 An Onion as an iPod Charger (2007)
Use an onion to charge an iPod? Surely an interesting prospect. That's probably the reason why the people behind HouseholdHacker, one of the top "guru" channels on YouTube, decided to create a hoax video claiming that the onion has iPod-charging abilities. Unfortunately for a lot of people, that the video was merely a hoax wasn't so evident, causing it to garner over four million views within its first week of being posted. In fact, the Unofficial Apple Weblog, as well as many other reputable sites, reported the HouseHolder claim as fact.
After some time, however, several entities exposed the video as a fraud. ABC's Emily Friedman tested the method and concluded that it was an "iFraud". MythBuster Grant Imahara, meanwhile, explained that the absence of anodes and cathodes in the onion made it obvious that the setup wouldn't work. Nevertheless, HouseholdHacker was obviously thrilled by the attention that the video attracted, and the people behind the channel went on to create other hoax videos. None of them were quite as successful as the iOnion original though.
2 lonelygirl15 (2006)
On June 16, 2006, a video blog, posted by a certain lonelygirl15, debuted on YouTube. It was of a seemingly typical girl who introduced herself as "Bree". The minute-and-a-half clip was downright ordinary, typical of the content expected from a bored teenage girl with a YouTube vlog. However, her story quickly morphed into a bizarre one that revealed her family's secret occult practices and the mysterious disappearance of her parents. As expected, Bree's MySpace page likewise caught fire as it was through the medium that she communicated with her followers. Also expectedly, rumors began floating around that the vlog was fictional, finally culminating in Richard Rushfield of the Los Angeles Times revealing that Creative Artists Agency was behind the videos. Later, it was further exposed that the vlog's main character was actually 19-year-old actress Jessica Rose. Nevertheless, the YouTube channel continued to remain relatively popular until the series ended on August 1, 2008.
1 Bonsai Kittens (2000)
In late 2000, Cruel.com featured BonsaiKitten.com as its "Cruel Site of the Day". The bonsai kitten site featured pictures of kittens in jars and instructions for how to create a bonsai kitten, supposedly a lost art whereby kittens were grown into various shapes depending on the constricting vessels that they were made to live in. Here's an example of the type of text that the site contained:
At only a few weeks of age, a kitten's bones have not yet hardened and become osseous. They are extremely soft and springy. In fact, if you take a week-old kitten and throw it to the floor, it will actually bounce!
Not surprisingly, animal lovers were infuriated and condemned the site, along with the practice it encouraged. In fact, several individuals and groups began petitions and sent the complaints to the Humane Society and the Animal Welfare Institute. Shortly after, however, the site was revealed to be nothing more than a satirical one created by an MIT university student who went by the alias "Dr. Michael Wong Chang". Nevertheless, to this day, animals rights groups still protest the site's continued existence as they say it promotes animal cruelty.