Prof. T. Mills Kelly
teaches a class on hoaxes at George Mason University titled, "Lying About the Past."
It's a study of hoaxes throughout history (the Museum of Hoaxes is on his syllabus!), but also uses hoaxes to teach critical thinking and historical analysis. As part of the class, the students have to create a historical hoax of their own and launch it on the web. I could have sworn that I'd posted previously about Kelly's class, but couldn't find where I did so.
Back in 2008, his students crafted a successful hoax about Edward Owens, a supposed Chesapeake pirate. This year they tried to create a tale about a possible 19th-century New York serial killer. But when they tried to ensnare redditors by posting a link on reddit asking "Opinions please, Reddit. Do you think my 'Uncle' Joe was just weird or possibly a serial killer?"
-- their hoax was exposed in just 26 minutes. Redditors noticed that the supporting wikipedia articles had all been recently created by the same people.
This leads Yoni Appelbaum, in an article on atlantic.com, to ponder why the students' hoax succeeded in 2008 but failed so quickly this year when it encountered the reddit sleuths. He concludes (rightly, I think) that it all comes down to a question of trust. If the source of the information doesn't seem trustworthy (which it didn't, to the redditors), then the hoax isn't going to succeed. In other words, it's the old lesson that "Information is only as good as its source" -- which I identified as the golden rule of hoax-busting in Hippo Eats Dwarf
. So if you want to perpetrate a successful hoax, you've got to make it difficult for people to trace the original source of the info back to you.