On May 9, money.co.uk published a story alleging that a 13-year-old kid in Texas had stolen his dad's credit card and used it to rent a motel room and some prostitutes. The cute/quirky part of the story was that the kids simply played Xbox with the "$1,000 a night girls." The story quickly spread throughout the media, appearing in The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, and Fox News, among others. But a few days later it was exposed as a hoax, since the police had no record of such an incident. David B posted about it here in the forum.
Online marketer Lyndon Antcliff admitted he had posted the story on the website of his client, money.co.uk, as an experiment in "linkbait." He said, "It's been a lesson in the power of social media and the power of people suspending their disbelief. [Traditional news organizations] are always banging about how inaccurate blogs are, but in this case, it was the opposite."
The story of the hoax and its exposure now has got a second wind, and is doing the rounds again, on account of some suggestion that google may punish linkbaiters by lowering their page rank. This doesn't sound like a good plan to me. Linkbait (or, more simply, hoaxes) may have publicity as a motive, but can also serve other, more socially useful purposes (i.e. exposing the pompous and gullible). Plus, once hoaxes are exposed, they become genuine news stories. So why try to artificially suppress their visibility?
However, Google hasn't actually said it will punish linkbait, but Wired's article about the hoax suggests the possibility. They write, "We didn't get an official response from Google about how the search engine might treat fake content that's used as a marketing tool, but search quality guru Matt Cutts implied that the company frowns upon this sort of practice." (Thanks, Joe)