8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet

“The greatest thing about the Internet is that you can quote something and totally make up the source,” George Washington once famously said.

(And if you believe that, we’ve got eight more absolutely true stories for you below.)

The Internet has completely revolutionized the way the world communicates — and that includes how we lie to each other.

Ever since chatting online first became popular, you could never trust that the person you were talking to really was who they said they were. Kids might believe they’re chatting with someone their own age, but actually be chatting with a much older online predator, and hopeful singles who hook up with someone they met on an online dating site might soon have their own horror stories to share.

The truth is, it’s easy to get away with lying online. When speaking to a stranger in a chat room or on social media, there’s no quick and easy way for the average person to verify what they’re saying.

And while the anonymity of the web sometimes encourages people to be more genuine, it can also encourage bad behavior in others due to a lack of accountability.

You’d think that knowing this, the average person would be skeptical of everything they see online, but it seems that’s not the case. In many of the cases below, a hoax spread quickly because of the power of trust, or going along with the crowd. If a trusted public figure makes a believable claim, most people are likely to believe them without trying to verify the facts, which may be why American football player Manti Te’o got away with his lie for so long (see the details in the graphic below). And if most people believe something to be true, the average person will go along with the crowd, which probably had a factor in the number of reputable news organizations that reprinted high school student Mohammed Islam’s hoax without verifying it first.

What made the general public believe all the other hoaxes below? Check out the details and decide for yourself. Would you fall for their lies?

8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet

8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet

Information can spread around the world very quickly on the Internet, which allows more people to be informed about breaking news than ever before. But sometimes, that quickness can be a hindrance rather than a boon. A bad source or an outright fabrication can spread around the world before anyone realizes the story is a hoax.

High School Stock Trading Millionaire

The story:

  • High school senior, Mohammed Islam, claimed to have made millions of dollars in the stock market
  • Numerous sources claimed that he’d made $72 million

Who was fooled?

  • New York magazine
  • New York Post
  • Business Insider
    • Among others

When?

  • 2014

The truth:

  • Islam made the whole thing up
  • He was successful at simulated trades at school and interested in finances
  • To impress a friend at school (also a reporter for the school’s paper), Islam made up claims about his success at real trading
  • His supposed business acumen led to a spot in Business Insider’s ‘20 Under 20′ article
  • He was then interviewed by New York magazine, where his story spread
  • After he and a friend were to go on CNBC, Islam’s story started to crumble
    • Reporters and editors began to dig deeper
    • Islam wasn’t able to answer their questions

How to Charge an iPod With an Onion

The story:

  • A YouTube video from the Household Hacker purported to show users how to charge an iPod with:
    • One white onion
    • Two cups of Powerade/Gatorade
  • Supposedly, soaking an onion in a liquid with electrolytes would allow it to function like a battery
  • Users should be able plug their USB cable into the onion, and their device will power up, claims the video

Who was fooled?

  • The Unofficial Apple Weblog
  • An unknown number of viewers
    • A week after the video was released, it had roughly 3 million views
    • Many video commenters reported trying it out for themselves
  • ABC News and Mythbusters each covered the story
    • They both concluded that the idea was a hoax

When?

  • 2007

The truth:

  • The Household Hacker website does contain legitimate instructable videos like:
    • DIY Drinking Glasses From a Beer Bottle
    • 7 Ways to Open a Wine Bottle Without a Corkscrew
  • Additionally, it’s possible to make a simple battery with a lemon, so some viewers thought an onion would work just as well
    • To reach the 5 volts necessary to charge an iPod, people would need:
      • 12 lemons
      • 5,000 hours
        • Even then, the lemon battery would run out of power in roughly 30 minutes

Later, the Household Hacker published the video on their website with a disclaimer: “Note: *This video is a parody*”

Unlock a Car Door with a Tennis Ball

The story:

  • A video posted on TechBlog in May 2007 tells viewers to burn a small hole into a tennis ball
  • If locked out of a car with an electronic locking system, the video tells users to place the hole in the ball over the keyhole
  • By pressing the ball firmly, the air pressure would open the lock, according to the video

Who was fooled?

  • Lifehacker
  • AutoBlog
  • Inspire21
    • Among others

When?

  • 2007

The truth:

  • MythBusters tested the idea in a “MiniMyths” episode
    • Even under ideal conditions, with a perfect seal and 100 psi of compressed air, nothing happened
    • The team deemed the myth “busted”

Hercules the Horse-Sized Dog

The story:

  • An email began circulating that showed a picture of a woman with a horse standing next to a man with a horse-sized dog
  • The dog in the picture, the email claimed, was Hercules, the world’s biggest dog
  • Hercules, an English mastiff, was reported to weigh 282 pounds and have a 38 inch neck

Who was fooled?

  • Unknown
    • Snopes and Hoax-Slayer both reported having received emails with the altered image

When?

  • 2007

The truth:

  • Hercules the English mastiff is a real dog who weighed 282 pounds and had a 38 inch neck
  • In 2001, Hercules set a Guinness World Record for “World’s Largest Dog”
  • The dog in the image:
    • Is a Neapolitan Mastiff, not an English Mastiff
    • Has been digitally altered to make it seem as large as the horse
    • Would weigh closer to 1000 pounds

The Steorn Infinite Energy Generator

The story:

  • An Irish company called Steorn claimed to have created a free energy generator called “Orbo”
  • One version of the device supposedly used 1 joule of electricity from a battery to perform 2 joules of work
    • Steorn claimed the process took advantage of a “magnetic anomaly”

Who was fooled?

  • The Pure Energy Systems Wiki
  • E-Cat World

When:

  • 2006

The truth:

  • CEO Sean McCarthy offered to let scientists test his device
    • Within 36 hours of his offer, 420 scientists had asked to experiment with Orbo
  • Testing began on the device in 2007 by a jury of scientists selected by Steorn
    • In 2009, the jury unanimously agreed that there was no evidence that Orbo produced energy

Manti Te’o’s “Girlfriend”

The story:

  • Manti Te’o, a football player at Notre Dame, claimed to suffer the loss of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, in September 2012
  • Te’o and Lennay Kekua supposedly met at a party in 2009
    • Lennay attended Stanford at the time
  • From 2010-2011, Te’o and Kekua would meet in Hawaii, when Te’o was home
  • In 2012, Kekua:
  • Was in a near-fatal car accident
  • Was diagnosed with leukemia
  • Graduated Stanford
  • Died

Who was fooled?

  • Manti Te’o
    • He was fooled by an acquaintance, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who invented and maintained Lennay’s personality
  • South Bend Tribune
  • New York Post
  • ESPN
  • CBS
  • Sports Illustrated
    • Among others

When:

  • 2012

The truth:

  • Deadspin exposed that Lennay Kekua never existed
  • The profile picture attributed to Kekua’s social media profile belongs to a woman in California named Diane O’Meara
    • She did not know someone else was using her picture
  • The first recorded instance of Te’o and Kekua meeting each other was on Twitter in 2011

Waterproof iPhones

The story:

  • An online ad showed that updating to iOS 7 would allow iPhones to:
    • Detect if they were underwater
    • Shut themselves off automatically
      • This was supposed to protect the circuitry inside
    • The ad also claimed that waterproofing was covered by Apple’s warranty policy
    • On Facebook, a post (supposedly) from Tim Cook endorsed the new upgrade

Who was fooled?

  • Unknown
    • A large number of tweets from the time seemed to indicate that people had tested the waterproofing “feature” and damaged their phones

When?

  • 2013

The truth:

  • Online forum, 4Chan, was behind the hoax
    • One user posted, “Can we come up with some kind of scheme that IOS7 waterproofs your phone? Get a cool official like poster going, and then post it to the relevant social networking sites.”

The Derbyshire Fairy

The story:

  • An article appeared online called “Do Fairies Live at the Bottom of Your Garden?” and contained:
    • Pictures of what appeared to be a mummified fairy
    • An explanation of how it was found
      • A dog walker in Derbyshire, England, discovered the small mummified body at Firestone Hill
    • Claims that the body had been x-rayed and studied by forensic experts
      • The skeleton was “identical to that of a child” according to the article, but the bones were hollow, like a bird’s

Who was fooled?

  • Unknown, though the website that hosted the article reached 20,000 hits in just 24 hours
  • After the hoax was revealed, the man behind the prank, Dan Baines, said that it had taken him four hours a day for several days to answer all the emails related to the fairy

When?

  • 2007

The truth:

  • The fairy was created by Dan Baines, a magician who also made props for other magicians
  • He created the story of the dog walker finding the fairy, and the forensic inspection
  • He published the article to his website a few days before April 1, 2007 (April Fool’s Day)

While the internet is full of fascinating information, stories, and pictures, it’s important to remember that not all of them are true. Whether they’re stories that simply got out of hand, or deliberate untruths created by pranksters, the web is an ideal place to spread hoaxes (as well as bust them).

Sources

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Discussion

2 Comments to “8 Hoaxes that Fooled the Internet”

  1. If someone tried to charge an iPhone with an onion, I am a little scared for the human race. I had a feeling about these stock trading stories, there is a lot. I really wonder about the Craigslist kids that buy for cheap and resell items to earn 100k. It was on live TV news but I still doubt it!

  2. […] l’infographie ci-dessous, Who Is Hosting This a reprise 8 de ces canulars qui ont marqué l’histoire du net de l’oignon qui permet de […]

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