The Museum of Hoaxes
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Internet Hoaxes
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." More…
I Buy Strays
The website 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. More…
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. More…
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. More…
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. More…
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... More…

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. More…
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 More…
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. More…
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. More…, 2001 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 He explained he had done so primarily "to churn the viewer's stomach and help outrage the more 'sensitive' viewers. This includes Bible thumpers." More…
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. More…, 2000
The website 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. More…
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. More…
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. More…
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." More…
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 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. More…
Our First Time, 1998 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. More…
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. More…
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  • All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.