School For Pranks
Status: True (news item)
A couple of people emailed me about this
. (Thanks to everyone who did!) The artist Ray Beldner
has been teaching a class at St. Mary's College titled "Pranks: Culture jamming as social activism." One of the class requirements is to try to hoax the media. One hoax created by the students involved "the distribution of a news release touting a fictional bar to be opened near the Moraga campus." However, the media didn't fall for it. (Evidently it wasn't sensational or salacious enough... make a story sufficiently shocking or weird and the media will usually print it first and ask questions later.) Not everyone is happy with the class. A professor of journalism ethics has charged that Beldner "is teaching students to try to screw up an important system that has enough trouble getting things right." I wouldn't agree (based on the limited quotation from the ethics professor... he may well have given a more nuanced response which isn't being reported). My understanding of the ethical rules for hoaxes is that it's wrong to make up lies that people have no reason not to believe or to take seriously (i.e. bomb threats, slander, puffing up your résumé with phony accomplishments, etc.). But it's acceptable to make up stuff if a) what you've made up is ridiculous or absurd enough that common sense would dictate people should question it before uncritically believing it, and b) the dissemination of the false information will do no harm (beyond embarrassment to those who fall for it). If you follow those rules, I think pranks and hoaxes are perfectly legitimate and can serve a useful social function.
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