The False Heroics of Josh Shaw, August 2014
Star USC football player Josh Shaw was hailed as a hero when he explained that he injured both his ankles after leaping from a second-story balcony to save his young nephew from drowning in a pool. USC was so impressed that it issued a press release detailing his heroics. For a moment Shaw was a national hero. But his tale quickly soured when a police report from the night of his accident placed him at his girlfriend's apartment where neighbors reported hearing screaming as well as seeing a man that looked like Shaw jumping from her balcony. Shaw confessed that his heroism tale was a lie. But exactly what he was doing that night remains unknown.
Sylvester Stallone (August 2014)
A fake news story that circulated on Facebook alleged that actor Sylvester Stallone died "in a horrible car accident" because "his driver was drunk did'nt saw truck". The post about his death led to a page that urged users to click a 'play' button to view video footage. The page (and story) were clickbait attempting to trick users into divulging personal information. The photo of a crashed car was totally unrelated to Stallone. It actually showed a scene from a 2013 accident in Beatrice, Nebraska that killed a 53-year-old man.
Jeremy Meeks (July 2014)
Jeremy Meeks (aka 'hot mugshot guy'), an inmate who gained fame online because of his attractive mugshot, was alleged to have died an hour after his release from jail. Police were said to have found him lying in the middle of a road in Central Stockton with knife and gunshot wounds, apparently inflicted by his wife with whom he had been arguing. In reality, Meeks had not been released from jail. The source of the story, which spread widely via social media, was a fake-news site, huzlers.com.
Gay Village, June 2014
A Dutch real estate company announced plans to develop a utopian "protected" community specifically for gay people on the north side of Tilburg. It would be named "Gay Village." The company said it had come up with the idea after seeing research showing that 22% of gay men didn't feel safe in their own neighborhood. The concept immediately generated controversy, with many denouncing it as a "gay ghetto". But a day later, the gay rights organization Roze Maandag (Pink Monday) admitted it was the mastermind behind the plan, which was all a hoax designed to highlight the problem of homophobia and "create awareness." [guardian]
Rick Dyer (the same Rick Dyer responsible for the 2008 Bigfoot in a Freezer Hoax) announced he had killed an 8-foot Bigfoot in Texas. He called it Hank. After declaring that a university had DNA-tested the creature and found it to be an unknown species, Dyer took the body of the creature on tour in early 2014, charging people to see it. But after a few months his tour encountered problems, and he posted a rambling confession on Facebook, revealing that Hank's body was a prop made of latex, foam, and camel hair.
Mamoru Samuragochi (the Japanese Beethoven), 2014
When Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi went completely deaf at the age of 35, he continued to compose music, explaining that he was able to do so because of his "absolute pitch." He composed some of his most popular works while deaf. On account of this, he was often referred to as the "Japanese Beethoven." But in 2014 it was revealed that all the music attributed to Samuragochi since 1996 had actually been ghostwritten by Takashi Niigaki, a part-time lecturer at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. Nor was Samuragochi deaf. He was merely slightly hearing impaired. He had been faking deafness in order to enhance his mystique. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]
Melba Ketchum’s Sasquatch DNA Project, Nov. 2012
Melba Ketchum, owner of a Texas veterinary laboratory, announced on Nov 24, 2012 that, after a 5-year study of purported Sasquatch tissue samples, she had determined that Sasquatch was a human hybrid species that arose approximately 15,000 years ago. But when the article with her data appeared 3 months later, it was underwhelming. Her article appeared in the Denovo Journal of Science which, it turned out, was owned by Ketchum. In fact, her article was the one and only paper ever published by the journal. Skeptics noted that it appeared Ketchum had simply analyzed contaminated samples of human DNA. [Skeptical Briefs]
Bigfoot Run Over, Aug. 2012
On the night of Sunday, August 26, 2012, 44-year-old Randy Lee Tenley stepped out onto U.S. Highway 93, just south of Kalispell, Montana, wearing a "Ghillie" suit (the kind used by snipers for camouflage). He was promptly hit by a car in the southbound lane, and then was hit again by a second car. Tenley died from his injuries. His friends told the Highway Patrol that he was wearing the suit in order to "incite a sighting of Bigfoot, to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch." It's not known if this was Tenley's first attempt at a Bigfoot hoax. However, dispatchers said they had received no recent reports of Bigfoot sightings. [nbcmontana.com]
The Edwards Photo, 2012
George Edwards, skipper of a Loch Ness tour boat, produced an image of a dark hump in the water. He claimed that the photo had been examined by a team of US military experts, who declared there was no doubt it showed an "animate object." But a little over a year later, Edwards confessed the photo was a fake. It actually showed a fiberglass hump created for a 2011 National Geographic documentary, "The Truth Behind the Loch Ness Monster." Edwards was unrepentant about the hoax, arguing that people come to Loch Ness for "a bit of fun" and not "for the science" — and that hoaxes such as his own helped to bring them there.
Internet Explorer Users Are Dumb, 2011
AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, NPR, CNET, and Forbes. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The staff photos and information on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6."
A Gay Girl in Damascus, 2011
The author of the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog identified herself as a lesbian named Amina Abdallah Arraf living in Syria. Over the course of three months, her blog gained a sizable following by offering an insider's account of the Arab Spring. Then a post on her blog reported she had been arrested by government forces. But amidst the expressions of concern for her safety, doubts were raised about her identity. No one had actually met her, and the photos of her on the blog were discovered to be of someone else. A week later, a 40-year-old American man studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, Tom MacMaster, confessed that he was really Arraf.
Balloon Boy, 2009
On October 15, 2009, millions of people sat glued to their TVs, watching a silver, saucer-shaped balloon float through the sky. The media was reporting that a six-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, was inside the balloon, in danger for his life as it drifted out of control. After several hours, the balloon landed a few miles from Denver International Airport, but the boy was nowhere to be found. There were fears he had fallen out. Thankfully he was alive. The entire time he had been safe at home, hiding in a room above his family's garage. The incident turned out to have been a bizarre hoax engineered by his parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, in an...
The Maurice Jarre Wikipedia Hoax
When composer Maurice Jarre died on March 28, 2009, many of the journalists given the job of writing an obituary for him turned to Wikipedia for information about his life. There they found the following quotation attributed to him: "One could say my life itself has been one long soundtrack. Music was my life, music brought me to life, and music is how I will be remembered long after I leave this life. When I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head, that only I can hear."
Abstract Artist Aelita Andre, 2009
The paintings of a new abstract artist, Aelita Andre, were featured at a Melbourne exhibition, alongside works by established photographers Nikka Kalashnikova and Julia Palenov. The art critic for The Age noted that Andre's works were "credible abstractions, maybe playing on Asian screens with their reds... heavily reliant on figure/ground relations." But Andre (who was Kalashnikova's daughter) was only 22-months old. The museum had not been aware of this when it agreed to exhibit her work. Nor had The Age's critic known this when he reviewed it. Aelita's mother said she simply wanted her daughter's work to be judged on its merits. [TheVine]
The Morristown UFO Hoax
On January 5, 2009, mysterious red lights appeared in the night sky above Morris County, New Jersey. They were seen by numerous people, who reported them to the police. The lights were seen again on several nights throughout January and February. The police speculated that the lights were probably the work of a prankster. Nevertheless, the media gave extensive coverage to the theory that the lights were actually UFOs. In February the lights were featured on the History Channel series UFO Hunters.
Angel at the Fence, 2008
The story of how Herman Rosenblat first met his wife, Roma, was remarkable. Rosenblat was imprisoned as a child in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He claimed that Roma, a Jewish girl disguised as a Christian who lived in the nearby town, used to throw apples over the fence for him. Twelve years later, the two met in Coney Island and realized where they had previously seen each other. They fell in love and got married. Rosenblat first shared this story in the mid-1990s, when he submitted it as an entry for a newspaper contest about "best love stories". He said he had been told to share the story, which he had kept secret for so many years,...
Madoff Investment Securities, 2008
Bernard Madoff founded Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960. It became a prestigious firm on Wall Street, acting both as a market-maker (a middleman between buyers and sellers of shares) and as an investment fund that managed money for high-net-worth individuals and institutions. Year after year Madoff delivered reliable annual returns of around 10% for his investors. He managed to do this even in down markets when everyone else was losing money. These returns inevitably created suspicions, but billions of dollars continued to be entrusted to him, principally because he always paid out if anyone requested their money.
Bigfoot in a Freezer, 2008
Rick Dyer and Matthew Whitton claimed they had stumbled upon the dead body of a Bigfoot while hiking in the Georgia woods. The creature was large, measuring 7 feet 7 inches tall and weighing over 500 pounds. Nevertheless, they managed to haul it out of the woods and store it in a freezer. Their claim was met with widespread skepticism, even from Bigfoot believers, but during a press conference in Palo Alto they indignantly stood by their story. However, when the body in the freezer was finally examined, it turned out to be a halloween costume with roadkill remains dumped on top of it. [Bigfoot Encounters]
Wine Spectator Hoaxed, 2008
Since 1981 the magazine Wine Spectator has given "Awards of Excellence" to restaurants that it deems to have exceptional wine lists. To win an award a restaurant must submit their wine list to the magazine and pay a $250 application fee. Over two-thirds of the restaurants who submit an application win an award, and the contest earns Wine Spectator over $1 million a year in fees. In 2008 the magazine gave an award to Osteria L’Intrepido, a restaurant in Milan, Italy. It was later embarrassed to discover that this restaurant did not exist.
The Filipino Monkey, 2008
In January 2008 five Iranian speedboats approached three U.S. Warships in the Persian Gulf. When the U.S. ships attempted to contact the Iranians by radio, they heard a voice reply, "I am coming to you... You will explode in... minutes." At first the warships assumed this message came from the Iranian speedboats, but it's since been determined that it probably came from a "Filipino Monkey", which is the name given to rogue radio operators who interject lewd jokes, threats, and obscenities into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channels. Filipino Monkey radio pranksters have been active in the Persian Gulf since at least 1984.
Ketchup Art, 2007
The artwork of Freddie WR Linsky attracted interest when it was posted on Charles Saatchi's online gallery. A Berlin gallery even invited Linsky to showcase his talents in an upcoming exhibition. What the critics didn't know was that Linsky was only 2 years old. Many of his pieces included ketchup, sprayed while sitting in his high chair. The works had been posted online by his mother, Estelle Lovatt, a lecturer at Hampstead School of Art, who explained that Freddie always got very excited by the messes he made, and she became curious whether critics "would be encouraging or dismissive if I showed his work online." [Daily Mail]
I Buy Strays
The website IBuyStrays.com appeared online in late December 2007 and quickly achieved notoriety. The site purported to represent a business that bought unwanted pets and stray animals and resold them to research labs for animal experimentation.
Paris Hilton Killed, June 2007
Several websites, disguised to look like credible news sources such as CNN, separately posted stories claiming that celebrity heiress Paris Hilton had died while in jail. One of these sites claimed that Hilton had been stabbed multiple times by another inmate who claimed that she was being "verbally assaulted" by the heiress. The assailant supposedly used "a shank made from grinded down metal ruler" to attack Hilton. These stories quickly went viral by email. Hilton was in jail, doing time in the Los Angeles Twin Towers Correctional Facility for violating her probation on an alcohol-related reckless driving charge. However, she was not dead, nor had she been attacked.
Joyce Hatto, 2007
Joyce Hatto was an English pianist who rose to prominence in the year preceding her death. Her talent had only been discovered very late in her life, when she was in her seventies. She was noted for being able to masterfully play a wide variety of works, including compositions by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, and Rachmaninoff. However, she never played in public. Recordings of her performances were produced by her husband from a private studio. But in 2007, a few months after her death, a critic for Gramophone magazine discovered that none of the recordings attributed to Hatto were actually performed by her. Her husband had been taking recordings of other pianists and claiming they were recordings of his wife. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]
Flemish Secession Hoax, 2006
In 2006, on a Belgian TV station news broadcast, it was announced that Flanders, the Dutch-speaking half of the country, had seceded from the country. Thirty minutes into the news bulletin,only after the station''s phonelines were swamped, it was revealed to be a "War of the Worlds"-style hoax.
Bangi, Chimpanzee Artist, 2005
In December 2005, the German magazine Bild reported that Dr. Kajta Schneider, director of the State Art Museum of Moritzburg, when asked to identify the artist responsible for a painting, responded that it looked like the work of Guggenheim-Prize winner Ernst Wilhelm Nay, who is famous for using blotches of color. In reality, the canvas was the work of Bangi, a 31-year-old female chimpanzee from the Halle zoo. When her error was revealed to her, Dr. Schneider said, "I did think it looked a bit rushed." Banghi reportedly enjoyed painting, although her mate Satscho had a habit of destroying most of her works.
Space Cadets, 2005
In 2005, the British television show "Space Cadets" pulled off the most expensive and elaborate hoax in English television history.
JT LeRoy, 2005
In 1994 a teenage boy called JT (or Jeremy "Terminator") LeRoy began to attract attention in the literary community. He published a few short stories, but he also aggressively reached out to other, older writers, communicating with them by phone, email, and fax. He was a sympathetic character a transgendered, homosexual, drug-addicted, pathologically shy teenager who had been living on the streets, forced into a life of truck-stop prostitution by his mother. Writing seemed to offer a means for him to escape that life, and other writers strongly supported his efforts. In 1999 he published his first novel, Sarah, which was a critical...
The Runaway Bride, 2005
Four days before her wedding, Jennifer Wilbanks of Georgia disappeared, sparking a nationwide search for her. She reappeared three days later in Albuquerque, New Mexico claiming she had been kidnapped by a hispanic man and a "heavy set white female" who drove her to Albuquerque before releasing her. But during questioning by the police, Wilbanks eventually admitted that the abduction story was a lie. The truth was that she had fled Georgia, taking a greyhound bus to Albuquerque, "because of the pressures of the wedding" and because "the list of things she needed to get done and no time to do it made her feel overwhelmed."
The Finger in Wendy’s Chili Hoax, 2005
In March 2005, Anna Ayala claimed that she found a human finger in a bowl of chili ordered from a Wendy's restaurant in California. Her allegation received huge amounts of media attention and cost Wendy's over $1 million a day in lost sales. The company offered a $100,000 reward for any information about how the finger got into the chili. A police investigation eventually determined that the finger hadn't actually been cooked in the chili and had originally been attached to the hand of a man who worked with Ayala's husband at an asphalt company. Ayala and her husband subsequently pleaded guilty to conspiring to file a false claim. [wikipedia]
Banksy in New York, 2005
Graffiti-artist Banksy surreptitiously hung one of his own paintings, a Warhol-style picture of a Tesco soup can, in New York's Museum of Modern Art. It remained there undetected for three days before the museum took it down. On the same day, Banksy also hung his own work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Museum. Banksy later explained, "I thought some of [the paintings] were quite good. That's why I thought, you know, put them in a gallery." [Wooster Collective]
The Loch Ness Tooth, 2005
Two American students visiting Scotland claimed to have found an enormous tooth (possibly belonging to Nessie) lodged in the carcass of a deer along the shore of the loch. However, (so they said) a game warden almost immediately confiscated the tooth from them, though not before they got a few pictures of it. The students subsequently created a website to publicize their find and lobby for the return of the tooth. Animal experts identified the "tooth" from its picture as the antler of a roe muntjac deer. The website and accompanying story turned out to be a publicity stunt for a horror novel by Steve Alten titled The Loch.
Samukeliso Sithole Samukeliso Sithole was a rising female star in the world of Zimbabwe athletics. The 17-year-old track-and-field athlete had won awards at various regional athletic events, including five gold medals at the Southern Region Youth Championship in 2004. But in 2005 her career came to an abrupt halt when it was revealed that she was actually a he.
The Yes Men’s Bhopal Hoax, 2004
On December 3, 2004 the BBC broadcast an interview with Jude Finisterra, who claimed to be a representative of Dow Chemical. The date was the 20th anniversary of the chemical disaster in Bhopal, and the BBC had sought out a representative from Dow to speak about the tragedy since Dow had inherited responsibility for the disaster via a corporate acquisition. During the interview, Mr. Finisterra shocked the BBC's audience when he said that not only had Dow decided to accept full responsibility for the incident, but that it was going to pay $12 billion in compensation to the victims. In response to the news, Dow's stock value promptly dropped.
Fried Baby Foot, 2004
In July 2004, a Durham, North Carolina family found what appeared to be a breaded, fried baby foot in a box of Banquet-brand chicken pieces bought at a local supermarket. But in this case, the family weren't pulling a scam. They legitimately found the object in the food. But thankfully, it wasn't a baby foot. The police identified the object as a piece of dough that a prankster at the Batesville chicken processing plant had carefully shaped to resemble a foot. Even toes and toenails had been sculpted. Then the faux foot had been breaded and fried. ConAgra, owner of the plant, said it had taken action to make sure nothing like that ever happened again.
Soup Mouse, 2004
Carla Patterson and her son were eating at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in May 2004 when she claimed to find a dead mouse in her bowl of vegetable soup. She immediately began screaming, prompting many of the other restaurant patrons to leave. While it investigated the incident, Cracker Barrel stopped serving vegetable soup at all 497 of its restaurants nationwide. But police found that the mouse had died from a skull fracture, not from drowning in soup, and concluded that Patterson had placed the mouse in the soup herself in an attempt to extort money from the restaurant. She was sentenced to a year in jail.
Bush Voters have lower IQs, 2004
A chart that circulated online during the first months of 2004 purported to show that American states whose populations possess higher average incomes and higher average IQs voted for Gore in the 2000 Presidential elections. Their poorer, lower-IQ counterparts voted for Bush. The implication was that smart people vote Democratic, and stupid people vote Republican. Major newspapers and magazines, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Economist, printed the chart before it was exposed as a hoax.
In 2004, it was uncovered that Jack Kelley, one of USA Today's most respected reporters, a five-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, had been fabricating major news stories at least since 1991.
The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot, 2004
The website of Colin Mayhew offered details on how this eccentric, but apparently brilliant, engineer had built an "autonomous crash-preventing robot" from the body of a BMW Mini Cooper r50. Video showed the humanoid robot in action, stopping a car from crashing into a wall. The Mini Cooper Autonomous Robot was eventually revealed to be an elaborate viral marketing campaign designed to promote the new Mini Cooper.
The Loch Ness Fossil, 2003
On July 2, 2003, Gerald McSorley, a Scottish pensioner, found a fossilized section of a plesiosaur vertebrae when he accidentally tripped and fell into the loch. Nessie enthusiasts speculated the fossil might have come from an ancestor of the monster. But subsequent examination revealed the vertebrae were embedded in limestone not found near Loch Ness, and the fossil showed signs of having recently been in a marine environment. In other words, it was clear the fossil had been planted at the loch. [BBC News]
Hunting for Bambi, 2003
A news report by Las Vegas station KLAS-TV about a company selling "Bambi Hunts" sparked nationwide outrage. Bambi Hunts were supposedly games in which men with paintball guns hunted naked women in the Nevada desert. Numerous critics denounced the hunts, demanding to know how such a thing could be legal. Only after a week did it become apparent that the company wasn't really conducting such hunts. It had only claimed to do so as a way to promote a soft-porn video about a fictional Bambi Hunt. Although their stunt almost got them run out of Las Vegas, the company did sell thousands of copies of the video.
The Cesky Sen Hypermarket, 2003
Lured by ads throughout Prague promoting a new hypermarket called Cesky Sen ("Czech Dream") that would sell products at unbelievably low prices, hundreds of people showed up at the Lethany Fairgrounds for the grand opening. But all they found was a giant Cesky Sen banner. There was no hypermarket, nor plans to build one. Several student filmmakers had set out to record what would happen when consumer's expectations collided with reality, and so had launched a marketing blitz to promote a non-existent, too-good-to-be-true store.
When Jayson Blair got a job writing for The New York Times, he was a young man, straight out of college. He advanced quickly, despite frequent complaints about the quality of his work, and became a full-time staff reporter in 2001. He was promoted to the national desk in 2002. But in April 2003, a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News notified the Times about suspicious similarities between a story Blair had just written and one she had written a week earlier.
The Microsoft iLoo, 2003
MSN UK, a division of Microsoft, announced the imminent introduction of the iLoo, the world's first internet-enabled port-a-potty. The iLoo would boast a wireless keyboard, height-adjustable flat plasma screen, broadband internet access, and toilet paper printed with URL suggestions. The press reacted with incredulity to the announcement, and as the press scrutiny intensified, a Microsoft representative eventually admitted that the iLoo was a hoax. But the next day, the company reversed itself, confessing that the iLoo actually wasn't a hoax but was instead a product that had temporarily been under serious consideration but was no longer going to be developed.
The Retractable Capitol Dome, 2002
The Beijing Evening News appeared to have scooped its competitors when it ran a story alleging that the U.S. Congress was threatening to leave Washington DC if the city didn't construct a new Capitol building that included a retractable dome. The story struck the Los Angeles Times's Beijing reporter as being very odd, since he hadn't heard the claim anywhere else. But after some investigation, he realized that the Beijing Evening News's source for the story was The Onion, an American online humor magazine. The Beijing Evening News had translated the Onion story almost word for word, not realizing the article was a satirical joke.
The NASA Satellite Photo
Soon after 9/11 an email began to circulate urging people to light a candle and stand outside their home with it at a specified date and time (the date varied between versions of the email). Supposedly a NASA satellite would then take a photograph of the entire nation illuminated by candlelight in order to demonstrate the solidarity of the American people in the face of terrorist aggression. The photo would appear on NASA's website the following day.
NASA never planned to take such a photograph. The light of even 200 million candles spread out over the entire nation would be invisible from space. Therefore, a photo of the nation...
Nostradamus Predicted 9/11
Soon after 9/11 an email began to circulate claiming that the sixteenth-century astrologer Nostradamus had predicted the terrorist attacks. Some "genuine Nostradamus quatrains" were offered as proof of this claim.
Tourist Guy, 2001
Soon after the tragic events of Sep. 11, 2001, a sensational photo began circulating widely via email, showing a tourist posing for a snapshot on top of the World Trade Center as a plane approached from behind. A caption explained that the photo came from a camera found in the rubble of the building. Apparently the photo had been taken just seconds before disaster struck. The photo was quickly debunked, but it took several months to find out that the guy in the photo was really a Hungarian man who had visited the World Trade Center in 1997. He had inserted a plane into one of his old holiday photos as a joke, never realizing how far his joke would travel.
The Lovenstein Institute IQ Report, 2001
A report circulated via email detailing the findings of a four-month study by the Lovenstein Institute of Scranton, Pennsylvania in which it had calculated the IQ of all the US Presidents of the past 50 years. Franklin Roosevelt ranked at the top with an IQ of 147. But then President George W. Bush came in at the bottom with an IQ of only 91. These findings were repeated as fact by media outlets around the world, including The Guardian. However, the "Lovenstein Institute" wasn't a real organization. Nor had a study of presidential IQ ever been conducted. The report had originated as a joke on a humor website called linkydinky.com.
Jay Forman wrote an occasional "Vice" column for the online magazine Slate.com. In it he often described various bizarre activities he had engaged in or witnessed over the years. For instance, one column probed the synergies between guns and liquor. Another discussed his short career in the pornography trade. In his 8 June 2001 column, he described his participation in the extreme sport of monkey fishing.
Monkey fishing, in Forman's usage of the term, was not a slang expression for some untraditional method of fishing for fish. Forman meant exactly what he said. He went fishing for monkeys.
Dave Manning, 2001
No matter how bad the movies of Columbia Pictures were, there was always one reviewer sure to heap praise on them, Dave Manning of the Ridgefield Press. For instance, while other reviewers skewered the sophomoric comedy The Animal, it impressed Manning as "another winner." His rave reviews might have gone forever unnoticed, except that Newsweek reporter John Horn uncovered the curious truth about him, which was that Manning didn't exist at all. He was the fictional creation of a young marketing executive at Sony, the parent company of Columbia Pictures, used to generate fake praise for otherwise unpraiseworthy movies.
Loch Ness Conger Eels, 2001
On May 2, 2001, two large, serpent-like conger eels were found on the shore of the loch, the largest one being almost 7ft long. Since the eels were saltwater creatures and the loch is freshwater, it was doubtful they got there of their own accord, although some did speculate that their presence was evidence of an underground tunnel link between Loch Ness and the sea. A more popular theory was that they had been dumped there purposefully by an angler, who might have been inspired by recent talk about Nessie being some kind of large eel. [Loch Ness Project]
Gorgeous Guy, 2001
A photo of a guy standing at a bus stop was posted on a Craigslist "Missed Connections" forum, describing him as a "Gorgeous Guy" whom the poster wanted to meet. The Gorgeous Guy at the bus stop then became an online mystery celebrity, as people theorized about who he was. He turned out to be a network engineer, Dan Baca. His internet fame had even attracted the attention of the national media, but an investigative journalist discovered that the majority of the initial posts about "Gorgeous Guy" all shared the same IP address, which suspiciously traced back to Baca himself. Though Baca insisted it was his co-workers who had played a prank on him.
Kaycee Nicole Swenson, 2001
Kaycee Nicole was a 19-year-old girl from Kansas dying of cancer. Or so believed the thousands of people who visited her website on which she kept a diary of her fight against leukemia. When a final post reported that she had died of a brain aneurysm, her online friends were distraught and inquired where they could attend her funeral. But Kaycee's mother refused to provide any information. This prompted some people to investigate, and the more they researched, the more they began to wonder if Kaycee actually existed. Their fears were confirmed when a 50-year-old woman confessed she had invented Kaycee and written all the diary entries herself.
Professor Trevor L. Montgomery and his Theoretical Beaver
The 2001 Spring line-up at Cornell University's prestigious series of psychology lectures included a talk by Professor Trevor L Montgomery. The CV Montgomery sent Cornell in anticipation of the talk advertised that he had "developed a neo-Husserlian critique of the conceptual failings of contemporary consciousness theory." It went on:
In order to gnaw through this Husserlian 'logjam' in the flow of (un)consciousness science, Dr Montgomery has recently unleashed his theoretical beaver: the concept of 'deconsciousness'.
The CV also noted that Montgomery had studied "comparative brain homology in Oxpeckers, Great Tits and London cab drivers."
Manbeef.com claimed to sell human flesh for the "sophisticated human meat consumer." Visitors to the site could read the 'recipe of the day' as well as view pictures of attractive cuts of homo sapiens. Not surprisingly, the site quickly generated controversy. So much so that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration felt compelled to investigate, but it found no evidence that human meat was actually being sold. A Los Angeles graphic designer eventually took responsibility for creating Manbeef.com. He explained he had done so primarily "to churn the viewer's stomach and help outrage the more 'sensitive' viewers. This includes Bible thumpers."
Bonsai Kitten, 2000
Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of growing miniature trees by rigorous pruning of their roots and branches. The "Bonsai Kitten" website claimed to apply similar techniques to kittens. The idea was that kittens were sealed inside glass containers, and as they grew (fed and watered through a tube) their bones conformed to the shape of the container, creating a uniquely formed Bonsai Kitten. The site generated massive controversy. Animal lovers demanded it be shut down. Eventually the FBI got involved. Its investigation concluded that the site had been created as a joke by some MIT students, and that no kittens had actually been harmed.
The Stone Age Discoveries of Shinichi Fujimura, 2000
Shinichi Fujimura was one of Japan's leading archaeologists and was something of a celebrity because of his discovery of human settlements in Japan that appeared to be over 600,000 years old. So it caused an enormous scandal when the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper accused Fujimura of planting artifacts that he later claimed to find. But it had photos of Fujimura caught red-handed, burying artifacts at a site. Fujimura confessed to the crime, explaining, "I was tempted by the Devil. I don't know how I can apologise for what I did... I wanted to be known as the person who excavated the oldest stoneware in Japan."
The Emulex Hoax, 2000
The share price of Emulex Corp. plummeted after news went out over wire services stating that its accounting practices were being reviewed by the SEC and that its CEO was resigning. However, none of this was true. The bad news had been invented by a college student, Mark Jakob, who had figured out that he could get a wire service to distribute a fake story if he submitted the story to the service at night, since night staffers were less likely to fact-check press releases. Jakob had hoped to profit by manipulating Emulex's stock price, and he did initially make $250,000. But the FBI arrested him within a week, so he didn't have long to enjoy the money.
Snowball the Monster Cat, 2000
This image became one of the most popular viral images online during the early 21st century. At first the picture circulated without explanatory text, but soon a caption was added claiming it showed "Snowball," a monster-sized cat whose mother had lived near a nuclear lab. The photo was featured on TV shows such as NBC's The Tonight Show and ABC's Good Morning America. Eventually Washington-resident Cordell Hauglie confessed he had created the photo and that 'Snowball' (real name 'Jumper') was his daughter's slightly chubby (but not monster-sized) cat. He created the image to share with some friends, never imagining how popular it would become.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Final Farewell
Gabriel Garcia MarquezDuring the summer of 1999 Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for Literature and author of such classics as One Hundred Years of Solitude, was treated for lymphatic cancer. Following this, there were persistent rumors about his failing health.
On May 29, 2000 these rumors appeared to be confirmed when a poem signed with his name appeared in the Peruvian daily La Republica. The poem, titled "La Marioneta" or "The Puppet," was said to be a farewell poem Garcia Marquez had written and sent out to his closest friends on account of his worsening condition...
The website MalePregnancy.com documented the case of Mr. Lee Mingwei, who was supposedly the first human male to become pregnant. Visitors to the site could inspect a variety of documentary evidence about Mr. Mingwei's pregnancy such as news reports, pictures, video clips, Mr. Mingwei's EKG, ultrasound images, and blood-pressure measurements. However, conveniently, the delivery date of Mr. Mingwei's child had not yet been determined. The creator of the site, artist/filmmaker Virgil Wong, claimed that not only did it fool thousands of people, but that he was also contacted by numerous men seeking to become the next pregnant man.
The Donside Lying Contest
The Donside Paper Company sponsored a contest for students. The challenge was to tell a lie convincingly. The competition was going well until participating colleges received a letter on Donside stationery saying the contest had been cancelled. So the schools began to turn away new entries. In a panic, Donside asked what they were doing. Turned out, the cancellation letter was an entry from a contestant who had taken to heart the challenge to "tell a lie convincingly."
Spud Server, 2000
It purported to be a web server powered entirely by potatoes, serving up web pages at an appropriately slow, potato-powered speed. The site gained international media exposure, reported on by both USA Today and the BBC. But the media exposure triggered feelings of guilt in the creators of Spud Server, who then confessed that unfortunately it was all a joke. They explained that, "Every time we did another interview, we kept thinking, 'This will be the last one.' . . . But it kind of snowballed." However, they did note that, in theory, building a potato-powered web server was technically feasible. But it would require A LOT of potatoes.
The Claire Chazal Experiment
Claire Chazal Claire Chazal was a well-known newswoman who presented the evening news on France's TF1 network. Like many French celebrities, she had decided to write a novel. She titled it L'Institutrice (The Primary School Teacher). It was published in 1997 by Plon and became a bestseller. In 2000, the editors of Voici magazine, a weekly tabloid, decided to use her novel to prove that the success of novels by celebrities has little to do with the literary merit of the novels themselves and everything to do with the fame of their authors.
Ron’s Angels, 1999
It's legal to sell donor eggs to infertile couples. But Ron Harris, an erotic photographer, proposed taking this process one step further. He established a website at which nubile supermodels auctioned off their eggs to the highest bidders. The concept outraged the infertility industry. News of the website was broken by the New York Times, but suspicions were raised when people noticed that no bids were being logged on the site. It turned out that the supermodel egg auction was a publicity stunt designed to attract visitors to Harris's real business, a pornography site.
The Piltdown Chicken, 1999
In October 1999, the National Geographic Society held a press conference to announce it had found a 125-million-year-old fossil in China that appeared to be the long-sought missing link between dinosaurs and birds. The fossil bird, when living, would have been about the size of a large chicken, but had the long tail of a dinosaur. This mixture of dinosaur and bird is what made them believe they had found the dinosaur-bird missing link. But it was not to be. A few months later, Nat Geo admitted it had fallen for a fake. A forger had taken a stone slab containing a tail fossil and affixed it to a fossil of a bird, thereby producing the hybrid dinosaur-bird creature.
Final Curtain, 1999
The Final Curtain Cemetery promoted itself as a different kind of cemetery. Artists would design their own tombstones before they died. The result would be a cemetery that would be part memorial, part art gallery, and part theme park. Visitors to the cemetery could dine at restaurants such as Heaven's Gate Cafe, or shop at the museum gift shop. The cemetery received widespread media coverage before being revealed to be a hoax designed by veteran prankster Joey Skaggs who explained that he wanted to draw attention to the death-care industry which he described as "a giant corporate scam, exquisitely successful at commercializing death."
The Blair Witch Project, 1999 The Blair Witch Project was a multimillion-dollar box-office sensation. Much of this success owed to a clever marketing scheme centering around the blairwitch.com website, where web surfers could view detailed historical information about the legend of the Blair Witch. It was all so convincing that many people were fooled into believing that the Blair Witch was a real historical figure. She wasn't. The entire tale was fictitious. Nevertheless, the hoax site revolutionized internet marketing and spawned many imitators.
Our First Time, 1998
OurFirstTime.com promised it would provide an internet first. Web surfers would be able to watch as two 18-year-olds, Mike and Diane, lost their virginity together on August 4, 1998. The two, who claimed to have been inspired by seeing the birth of a baby boy streamed live on the web, said they wanted to show that making love is "nothing to be ashamed about." But the "internet deflowering" never happened because the company that was providing the hosting for the site pulled out of the deal when it learned of a secret plan both to impose a $5 viewing fee at the last minute, and also to have Mike and Diane (who were really paid models) choose to abstain.
Stephen Glass, 1998
Stephen Glass was a young writer at the New Republic who had a reputation for always getting the best scoops. In his most celebrated article, "Hack Heaven," he told the story of a fifteen-year-old hacker who broke into the computer system of a software corporation, Jukt Micronics, and then succeeded in extorting money, a job, a Miata, a trip to Disney World, and a lifetime subscription to Playboy from the company. But Jukt Micronics, as well as many of the other topics Glass wrote about, existed only in his own imagination. The New Republic fired him in May 1998 when it found out.
The Sneaker Pimps Crop Circle
In July 1997 a crop circle resembling the logo of a popular band, the Sneaker Pimps, appeared in Warwickshire, England. This band was playing in the nearby Phoenix music festival. No one ever took credit for the formation. Cerealogists Andy Thomas and Mike Leigh have suggested that "the thought patterns of those at the festival had somehow coalesced to create it in ways which experiments had shown possible." An alternative (more plausible) explanation is that it was created either by a fan, or by a public-relations agent trying to publicize the band.
Allegra Coleman, 1996 Esquire magazine's November 1996 cover featured Allegra Coleman, said to be a hot new star taking Hollywood by storm. The feature article inside described the buzz building around her. Hollywood was intrigued. After Esquire ran the article, the magazine received calls from talent scouts, eager to get in touch with the new star. But as it turned out, Allegra didn't exist. Esquire had invented her as a spoof of the fawning puffery that many magazines shower on movie stars. The woman shown on the cover and in the photos inside was a (then) little-known actress called Ali Larter, who subsequently starred in the NBC series Heroes.
The Sokal Hoax, 1996
An article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity" appeared in the Spring 1996 issue of the cultural studies journal Social Text. Written in a typical academic style (slightly overbearing, verbose, and armored with a bristling flank of footnotes), it appeared to be an unlikely candidate for controversy. But on the day of its publication, Sokal revealed that it was actually intended as a parody, a fact which the editorial board of Social Text had failed to recognize. Sokal argued that the publication of his parody demonstrated "an apparent decline in the standards of rigor in certain precincts of the academic humanities."
The Taco Liberty Bell, 1996
When the Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the Liberty Bell and was renaming it the Taco Liberty Bell, it explained it was doing so as part of its effort to "help the national debt." Nevertheless, hundreds of people called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger. Their nerves were only calmed when Taco Bell revealed, a few hours later, that it was all a practical joke, and reminded them that it was April Fool's Day. Later that day, White House press secretary Mike McCurry joked that the Lincoln Memorial had also been sold and would be renamed the Ford Lincoln Mercury Memorial.
Alien Autopsy, 1995
British film producer Ray Santilli came forward with several canisters of film that he said showed military surgeons performing an autopsy on an extraterrestrial creature in 1947. He said he had acquired the film from a former military cameraman. Skeptics mocked Santilli's claims. Nevertheless, when the FOX network aired his film in August 1995, it received extremely high nielsen ratings, and subsequent video rentals of the film were consistently popular. But eventually (in 2006) Santilli confessed the film was fake. He had filmed the footage inside a London apartment., and the body of the alien had been created by sculptor John Humphreys.
Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church, 1994
In late 1994, a news story purportedly issued by the Associated Press began circulating via email claiming that Microsoft had bought the Catholic church. The announcement, which bore a Vatican City dateline, noted that this was "the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion." Although most of the article was clearly parody, many people believed it to be a real AP story and telephoned Microsoft to inquire about details. So many people called that Microsoft eventually felt compelled to issue an official statement denying it had bought the Catholic church.
The Sibuxiang Beast, 1994
On the evening of September 19, 1994, a stark warning repeated for TV viewers in Taiyuan, in northern China. The Sibuxiang beast, the message said, was on the loose and heading towards the city. "Everyone close your windows and doors and be on alert," people were warned. Many residents panicked, barricading themselves inside their homes. Others called the local authorities to find out what was happening. As it turned out, the Sibuxiang Beast was not an animal, but a new brand of liquor. The message had been an advertisement. TV commercials were still something of a novelty in China, and thus the confusion.
Arm the Homeless, 1993
A press release distributed to the media in Columbus, Ohio announced the formation of a new charity for the homeless. But instead of giving food or shelter, this charity planned to provide guns and ammunition. It called itself the "Arm the Homeless Coalition." News of this charity soon spread nationwide and generated enormous controversy. But when an Ohio reporter tried to track down the director of the Coalition, his investigation led him instead to a group of university students who admitted the entire thing was a hoax, designed, they said, "to draw attention to the issues of guns and violence, homelessness and media manipulation in our society."