"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Friday, November 04, 2005

This is not a hoax, honest

No doubt you’ve seen a number of hoax sites on the web; these and “Googlebombs” are two of the more clever forms of humor in our modern digital age. (The most popular Googlebomb: go to Google, type in the word "failure", and hit "I'm feeling lucky".) Satire has been with us since the dawn of man, but was refined to high camp in the mid-20th century by publications like Mad Magazine. The internet has since honed it to an art form, and the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) part is that virtually anyone can do it: you don't need to be Megabuck Publishing Corp. to expose your cunning parody to a potential audience of millions. Since we’ve come to depend on the Web for so much of the information we get these days, it’s only natural that good imitations of legitimate sites get so much attention. Here’s some well known spoofs, along with their genuine counterparts, for your entertainment and amusement:

World Trade Organization:
spoof site
real site

DOW Chemical:

spoof site
real site

The White House:

spoof site
real site

Other Spoof Sites:
Journal of Historical Review
RYT hospital
Huckleberry Finn
Lord of the Rings

Many of these are done so skillfully that unless you look very closely, it can be hard to tell the difference between them and the real sites they’re lampooning. A close but dim-witted cousin of the spoof is the Urban Legend. The modern equivalent of the chain letter, these folk tales are forwarded via e-mail from one group of friends to another as if they were gospel. The granddaddy of them all has to be the “Neiman-Marcus charges woman $250.00 for chocolate-chip cookie recipe” myth that’s been circulating in one form or another since the 1950’s, way before the Internet allowed these rumors to spread like wildfire.

Fortunately, there’s a few websites dedicated to exposing hoaxes and breaking the e-mail chain that perpetuates them. The all-time best hoax-buster site is without a doubt the Urban Legend Reference Pages - nearly every myth ever to hit the web is listed here in searchable form. It also references some stories which are so odd that you'd swear they were made up, but are in fact true - like this story of an orphaned squirrel "adopted" by a mother dog who treated it like one of her newborn pups. Other interesting items, both fake and real, can be found at the Museum of Hoaxes and the Skeptic's Dictionary.

Bottom line: it’s OK to have fun when you know something is bogus. But the next time you get an email that says cleaning your floors with a Swiffer Wetjet can kill your pets, or that some college student named Jen engaged in cyber-sex for over a year with a man who turned out to be her father, and then urges you to forward this shocking tale to all of your friends – be skeptical. It only takes a minute to check it out, and in most cases, debunk it. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.

Image hosted by Photobucket.com
Hat tip: Halcyon

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