Hoax

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A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. It is distinguishable from errors in observation or judgment, or rumor
Rumor
A rumor or rumour is often viewed as "an unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern" However, a review of the research on rumor conducted by Pendleton in 1998 found that research across sociology,...

s, urban legend
Urban legend
An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...

s, pseudoscience
Pseudoscience
Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but which does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status...

s or April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day
April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

 events that are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes.

Definition



The British philologist Robert Nares
Robert Nares
Robert Nares was an English clergyman, philologist and author.-Life:He was born at York in 1753, the son of James Nares , organist of York Minster and educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.From 1779 to 1783 he lived with the family of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, 4th Baronet as...

 (1753–1829) says that the word hoax was coined in the late 18th century as a contraction of the verb hocus, which means "to cheat", "to impose upon" or "to befuddle often with drugged liquor". Hocus is a shortening of the magic
Magic (paranormal)
Magic is the claimed art of manipulating aspects of reality either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult laws unknown to science. It is in contrast to science, in that science does not accept anything not subject to either direct or indirect observation, and subject to logical...

 incantation
Incantation
An incantation or enchantment is a charm or spell created using words. An incantation may take place during a ritual, either a hymn or prayer, and may invoke or praise a deity. In magic, occultism, witchcraft it may be used with the intention of casting a spell on an object or a person...

 hocus pocus
Hocus Pocus (magic)
Hocus Pocus or hocus-pocus is a generic term that may be derived from an ancient language and is presently used by magicians, usually the magic words spoken when bringing about some sort of change. It was once a common term for a magician, juggler, or other similar entertainer.The origins of the...

, which in turn is a contraction of the phrase Hocus pocus, tontus talontus, vade celeriter jubeo, mentioned in Thomas Ady
Thomas Ady
Thomas Ady was an English physician and humanist who was the author of three sceptical books on witchcraft and witch-hunting, using the Bible as the source. His first and best known work,...

's 1656 book A candle in the dark, or a treatise on the nature of witches and witchcraft. According to the book, the Latin
Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

-like gibberish phrase was uttered by a conjuror to distract his audience from his sleight of hand
Sleight of hand
Sleight of hand, also known as prestidigitation or legerdemain, is the set of techniques used by a magician to manipulate objects such as cards and coins secretly....

.

The term hoax is occasionally used in reference to urban legends and rumors, but the folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand
Jan Harold Brunvand
Jan Harold Brunvand is an American folklorist. A professor emeritus of the University of Utah, he best known for spreading the concept of the urban legend, a form of modern folklore...

 argues that most of them lack evidence of deliberate creations of falsehood and are passed along in good faith by believers or as jokes, so the term should be used for only those with a probable conscious attempt to deceive. As for the closely related terms practical joke
Practical joke
A practical joke is a mischievous trick played on someone, typically causing the victim to experience embarrassment, indignity, or discomfort. Practical jokes differ from confidence tricks in that the victim finds out, or is let in on the joke, rather than being fooled into handing over money or...

and prank, Brunvand states that although there are instances where they overlap, hoax tends to indicate "relatively complex and large-scale fabrications" and includes deceptions that go beyond the merely playful and "cause material loss or harm to the victim".
According to Professor Lynda Walsh of the University of Nevada, Reno
University of Nevada, Reno
The University of Nevada, Reno , is a teaching and research university established in 1874 and located in Reno, Nevada, USA...

, some hoaxes—such as the Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814
Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814
The Great Stock Exchange Fraud of 1814 was a hoax or fraud centered on false information about the then-ongoing Napoleonic Wars, affecting the London Stock Exchange in 1814.-The du Bourg hoax:...

, labeled as a hoax by contemporary commentators—are financial in nature, and successful hoaxers—such as P. T. Barnum
P. T. Barnum
Phineas Taylor Barnum was an American showman, businessman, scam artist and entertainer, remembered for promoting celebrated hoaxes and for founding the circus that became the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus....

, whose Fiji mermaid
Fiji mermaid
The Fiji mermaid was an object comprising the torso and head of a juvenile monkey sewn to the back half of a fish, covered in papier-mâché...

 contributed to his wealth—often acquire monetary gain or fame through their fabrications, so the distinction between hoax and fraud
Fraud
In criminal law, a fraud is an intentional deception made for personal gain or to damage another individual; the related adjective is fraudulent. The specific legal definition varies by legal jurisdiction. Fraud is a crime, and also a civil law violation...

is not necessarily clear. Alex Boese, the creator of the Museum of Hoaxes
Museum of Hoaxes
The Museum of Hoaxes is a website created by Alex Boese in 1997 in San Diego, California as a resource for reporting and discussing hoaxes and urban legends, both past and present....

, states that the only distinction between them is the reaction of the public, because a fraud can be classified as a hoax when its method of acquiring financial gain creates a broad public impact or captures the imagination of the masses.

One of the earliest recorded media hoaxes is a fake almanac
Almanac
An almanac is an annual publication that includes information such as weather forecasts, farmers' planting dates, and tide tables, containing tabular information in a particular field or fields often arranged according to the calendar etc...

 published by Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift
Jonathan Swift was an Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer , poet and cleric who became Dean of St...

 under the pseudonym of Isaac Bickerstaff
Isaac Bickerstaff
Isaac Bickerstaff Esq was a pseudonym used by Jonathan Swift as part of a hoax to predict the death of then famous Almanac–maker and astrologer John Partridge....

 in 1708. Swift predicted the death of John Partridge
John Partridge (astrologer)
John Partridge was an English astrologer. He was also the author and publisher of a number of astrological almanacs and books.-Partridge's life:...

, one of the leading astrologers in England at that time, in the almanac and later issued an elegy
Elegy
In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.-History:The Greek term elegeia originally referred to any verse written in elegiac couplets and covering a wide range of subject matter, including epitaphs for tombs...

 on the day Partridge was supposed to have died. Partridge's reputation was damaged as a result and his astrological almanac was not published for the next six years.

It is possible to perpetrate a hoax by making only true statements using unfamiliar wording or context, such as in the Dihydrogen monoxide hoax
Dihydrogen monoxide hoax
In the dihydrogen monoxide hoax, water is called by an unfamiliar name, "dihydrogen monoxide", followed by a listing of real negative effects of this chemical, in an attempt to convince people that it should be carefully regulated, labeled as hazardous, or banned...

. Political hoaxes are sometimes motivated by the desire to ridicule or besmirch opposing politicians or political institutions, often before elections.

A hoax differs from a magic
Magic (illusion)
Magic is a performing art that entertains audiences by staging tricks or creating illusions of seemingly impossible or supernatural feats using natural means...

 trick or from fiction
Fiction
Fiction is the form of any narrative or informative work that deals, in part or in whole, with information or events that are not factual, but rather, imaginary—that is, invented by the author. Although fiction describes a major branch of literary work, it may also refer to theatrical,...

 (books, movies, theatre
Theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

, radio
Radio
Radio is the transmission of signals through free space by modulation of electromagnetic waves with frequencies below those of visible light. Electromagnetic radiation travels by means of oscillating electromagnetic fields that pass through the air and the vacuum of space...

, television
Television
Television is a telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images that can be monochrome or colored, with accompanying sound...

, etc.) in that the audience is unaware of being deceived, whereas in watching a magician perform an illusion the audience expects to be tricked.

A hoax is often intended as a practical joke or to cause embarrassment, or to provoke social or political change by raising people's awareness of something. It can also emerge from a marketing or advertising purpose. For example, to market a romantic comedy
Romantic Comedy
Romantic Comedy can refer to* Romantic Comedy , a 1979 play written by Bernard Slade* Romantic Comedy , a 1983 film adapted from the play and starring Dudley Moore and Mary Steenburgen...

 movie, a director staged a phony "incident" during a supposed wedding
Wedding
A wedding is the ceremony in which two people are united in marriage or a similar institution. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, ethnic groups, religions, countries, and social classes...

, which showed a bride and preacher getting knocked into a pool by a clumsy fall from a best man. A resulting video clip of Chloe and Keith's Wedding was uploaded to YouTube
YouTube
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 and was viewed by over 30 million people and the couple was interviewed by numerous talk shows. Viewers were deluded into thinking that it was an authentic clip of a real accident at a real wedding; but a story in USA Today
USA Today
USA Today is a national American daily newspaper published by the Gannett Company. It was founded by Al Neuharth. The newspaper vies with The Wall Street Journal for the position of having the widest circulation of any newspaper in the United States, something it previously held since 2003...

in 2009 revealed it was a hoax.

A borderline case between fiction and hoax is a 1938 radio broadcast by Orson Welles describing a Martian
Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

 invasion of earth. Many people who tuned in without hearing the introduction of the program as fiction were concerned that the invasion was real. It has been suggested that Welles knew the schedule of a popular program on another channel, and scheduled the first report of the invasion to coincide with a commercial break in the other program so that people switching stations would be tricked.

Governments sometimes spread false information to assist them with aims such as going to war; the "Iraq dossier" is an example of this; these often come under the heading of black propaganda. There is often a mixture of outright hoax and suppression and management of information
Censorship
thumb|[[Book burning]] following the [[1973 Chilean coup d'état|1973 coup]] that installed the [[Military government of Chile |Pinochet regime]] in Chile...

 to give the desired impression. In wartime and times of international tension rumours abound, some of which may be deliberate hoaxes.

Examples of politics related hoaxes:
  • Belgium
    Belgium
    Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

     is a country with a Flemish
    Flemish
    Flemish can refer to anything related to Flanders, and may refer directly to the following articles:*Flemish, an informal, though linguistically incorrect, name of any kind of the Dutch language as spoken in Belgium....

    - and a French
    French language
    French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

    -speaking region. In 2006 French-speaking television channel RTBF
    RTBF
    Radio Télévision Belge Francophone is the public broadcasting organization of the French Community of Belgium, the southern, French-speaking part of Belgium...

     interrupted programming with a spoof report
    Flemish Secession hoax
    , also called "The Flemish Secession Hoax," was a hoax perpetrated by the French speaking Belgian public TV station RTBF on Wednesday, December 13, 2006, and created by Belgian journalist Philippe Dutilleul...

     claiming that the country had split in two and the royal family
    Monarchy of Belgium
    Monarchy in Belgium is constitutional and popular in nature. The hereditary monarch, at present Albert II, is the head of state and is officially called King of the Belgians .-Origins:...

     had fled.
  • On Saturday 13 March 2010 the Imedi television station in Georgia
    Georgia (country)
    Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

     broadcast a false announcement that Russia
    Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

     had invaded Georgia.

Types of hoaxes


Hoaxes vary widely in their processes of creation, propagation, and entrenchment over time. For example :
  • Hoaxes perpetrated on occasions when their initiation is considered socially appropriate, such as April Fools' Day
    April Fools' Day
    April Fools' Day is celebrated in different countries around the world on April 1 every year. Sometimes referred to as All Fools' Day, April 1 is not a national holiday, but is widely recognized and celebrated as a day when many people play all kinds of jokes and foolishness...

  • Apocryphal claims that originate as a hoax, gain widespread belief among members of a culture or organization, become entrenched as persons who believe it repeat it in good faith
    Good faith
    In philosophy, the concept of Good faith—Latin bona fides “good faith”, bona fide “in good faith”—denotes sincere, honest intention or belief, regardless of the outcome of an action; the opposed concepts are bad faith, mala fides and perfidy...

     to others, and continue to command that belief after the hoax's originators have died or departed
  • The "Bruno Hat" art hoax arranged in London
    London
    London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

     in July 1929 involved staging a convincing public exhibition of paintings by an imaginary reclusive artist, Bruno Hat. All the perpetrators were well-educated and did not intend a fraud, as the newspapers were informed the next day. Those involved included Brian Howard, Evelyn Waugh
    Evelyn Waugh
    Arthur Evelyn St. John Waugh , known as Evelyn Waugh, was an English writer of novels, travel books and biographies. He was also a prolific journalist and reviewer...

    , Bryan Guinness
    Bryan Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne
    Bryan Walter Guinness, 2nd Baron Moyne , was an heir to part of the Guinness family brewing fortune, lawyer, poet and novelist...

    , John Banting
    John Banting
    John Banting was an English artist and writer.Born in London and educated at Emanuel School, Banting was initially attracted to vorticism and associated with the Bloomsbury Group, before becoming interested in surrealism in Paris in the 1930s...

     and Tom Mitford.
  • Hoaxes formed by making minor or gradually increasing changes to a warning or other claim widely circulated for legitimate purposes
  • Hoaxes perpetrated by "scare tactics" appealing to the audience's subjectively rational belief that the expected cost of not believing the hoax (the cost if its assertions are true times the likelihood of their truth) outweighs the expected cost of believing the hoax (cost if false times likelihood of falsity), such as claims that a non-malicious but unfamiliar program on one's computer is malware
    Malware
    Malware, short for malicious software, consists of programming that is designed to disrupt or deny operation, gather information that leads to loss of privacy or exploitation, or gain unauthorized access to system resources, or that otherwise exhibits abusive behavior...

  • Some urban legend
    Urban legend
    An urban legend, urban myth, urban tale, or contemporary legend, is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true...

    s and rumors with a probable conscious attempt to deceive
  • Humbug
    Humbug
    Humbug is an old term meaning hoax or jest. While the term was first described in 1751 as student slang, its etymology is unknown. Its present meaning as an exclamation is closer to 'nonsense' or 'gibberish', while as a noun, a humbug refers to a fraud or impostor, implying an element of...

    s
  • Computer virus hoax
    Virus hoax
    A computer virus hoax is a message warning the recipient of a non-existent computer virus threat. The message is usually a chain e-mail that tells the recipient to forward it to everyone they know.-Identification:...

    es became widespread as viruses
    Computer virus
    A computer virus is a computer program that can replicate itself and spread from one computer to another. The term "virus" is also commonly but erroneously used to refer to other types of malware, including but not limited to adware and spyware programs that do not have the reproductive ability...

     themselves began to spread. A typical hoax is an email
    Email
    Electronic mail, commonly known as email or e-mail, is a method of exchanging digital messages from an author to one or more recipients. Modern email operates across the Internet or other computer networks. Some early email systems required that the author and the recipient both be online at the...

     message warning recipients of a non-existent threat, usually quoting spurious authorities such as Microsoft
    Microsoft
    Microsoft Corporation is an American public multinational corporation headquartered in Redmond, Washington, USA that develops, manufactures, licenses, and supports a wide range of products and services predominantly related to computing through its various product divisions...

     and IBM
    IBM
    International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

    . In most cases the payload
    Payload (software)
    Payload in computing is the cargo of a data transmission. It is the part of the transmitted data which is the fundamental purpose of the transmission, to the exclusion of information sent with it solely to facilitate delivery.In computer security, payload refers to the...

     is an exhortation to distribute the message to everyone in the recipient's address book. Sometimes the hoax is more harmful, e.g., telling the recipient to seek a particular file
    Computer file
    A computer file is a block of arbitrary information, or resource for storing information, which is available to a computer program and is usually based on some kind of durable storage. A file is durable in the sense that it remains available for programs to use after the current program has finished...

     (usually in a Microsoft Windows
    Microsoft Windows
    Microsoft Windows is a series of operating systems produced by Microsoft.Microsoft introduced an operating environment named Windows on November 20, 1985 as an add-on to MS-DOS in response to the growing interest in graphical user interfaces . Microsoft Windows came to dominate the world's personal...

     operating system
    Operating system
    An operating system is a set of programs that manage computer hardware resources and provide common services for application software. The operating system is the most important type of system software in a computer system...

    ); if the file is found, the computer is deemed to be infected unless it is deleted. In reality the file is one required by the operating system for correct functioning of the computer.
  • A hoax of exposure is a semi-comical or private sting operation
    Sting operation
    In law enforcement, a sting operation is a deceptive operation designed to catch a person committing a crime. A typical sting will have a law-enforcement officer or cooperative member of the public play a role as criminal partner or potential victim and go along with a suspect's actions to gather...

    . It usually encourages people to act foolishly or credulously by falling for patent nonsense that the hoaxer deliberately presents as reality. A related activity is culture jamming
    Culture jamming
    Culture jamming, coined in 1984, denotes a tactic used by many anti-consumerist social movements to disrupt or subvert mainstream cultural institutions, including corporate advertising. Guerrilla semiotics and night discourse are sometimes used synonymously with the term culture jamming.Culture...

    .
  • Rodney Marks
    Rodney Marks
    Rodney Marks , is an Australian comedian. Marks satirises bureaucracy by impersonating experts of either sex and varied ethnicity and occupation. He has professionally performed for hundreds of corporations, government departments, universities and other organisations in Australasia and the USA...

     who describes himself as a corporate comedian, presents fake keynote speeches at business events. These speeches usually reveal the presenter as well informed about the conference and leading figures, but progressively the audience is lambasted until they recognize the comedy.

See also



  • List of hoaxes
  • Fictitious entry
    Fictitious entry
    Fictitious entries, also known as fake entries, Mountweazels, ghost word and nihil articles, are deliberately incorrect entries or articles in reference works such as dictionaries, encyclopedias, maps, and directories. Entries in reference works normally originate from a reliable external source,...

  • Literary forgery
    Literary forgery
    Literary forgery refers to writing, such as a manuscript or a literary work either deliberately misattributed to a historical or invented author, or a purported memoir presented as genuine.- History :The common, or popularly known, instance of literary forgery may involve for example the work of a...

  • Fake memoirs
    Fake memoirs
    Fake memoirs form a category of literary forgery in which a wholly or partially fabricated autobiography, memoir or journal of an individual is presented as fact. Often, the purported author of the work also is fabricated...


  • Forgery
    Forgery
    Forgery is the process of making, adapting, or imitating objects, statistics, or documents with the intent to deceive. Copies, studio replicas, and reproductions are not considered forgeries, though they may later become forgeries through knowing and willful misrepresentations. Forging money or...

  • Counterfeit
    Counterfeit
    To counterfeit means to illegally imitate something. Counterfeit products are often produced with the intent to take advantage of the superior value of the imitated product...

  • Impostor
    Impostor
    An impostor or imposter is a person who pretends to be somebody else, often to try to gain financial or social advantages through social engineering, but just as often for purposes of espionage or law enforcement....

  • False document
    False document
    A false document is a literary technique employed to create verisimilitude in a work of fiction. By inventing and inserting documents that appear to be factual, an author tries to create a sense of authenticity beyond the normal and expected suspension of disbelief for a work of art...


  • Musical hoax
    Musical hoax
    A Musical Hoax is a piece of music composed by an individual or group who intentionally misattribute it to someone else.- Musical hoaxes ascribed to historical figures :Henri Casadesus...

  • Tall tale
    Tall tale
    A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some such stories are exaggerations of actual events, for example fish stories such as, "that fish was so big, why I tell ya', it nearly sank the boat when I pulled it in!" Other tall tales are completely...

  • Conspiracy theory
    Conspiracy theory
    A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

  • Simulated reality
    Simulated reality
    Simulated reality is the proposition that reality could be simulated—perhaps by computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from "true" reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation....


  • E-mail spoofing
    E-mail spoofing
    Email spoofing is email activity in which the sender address and other parts of the email header are altered to appear as though the email originated from a different source. Because core SMTP doesn't provide any authentication, it is easy to impersonate and forge emails...

  • Virus hoax
    Virus hoax
    A computer virus hoax is a message warning the recipient of a non-existent computer virus threat. The message is usually a chain e-mail that tells the recipient to forward it to everyone they know.-Identification:...

  • Website spoofing
    Website spoofing
    Website spoofing is the act of creating a website, as a hoax, with the intention of misleading readers that the website has been created by a different person or organisation. Another meaning for spoof is fake websites. Normally, the spoof website will adopt the design of the target website and...

  • Münchausen by Internet
    Munchausen by Internet
    Münchausen by Internet is a pattern of behavior in which Internet users seek attention by feigning illnesses in online venues such as chat rooms, message boards, and Internet Relay Chat . It has been described in medical literature as a manifestation of factitious disorder or factitious disorder by...



Further reading

  • Hoaxes, Curtis D. MacDougall, 1940, revised ed. 1958, Dover Publications
    Dover Publications
    Dover Publications is an American book publisher founded in 1941 by Hayward Cirker and his wife, Blanche. It publishes primarily reissues, books no longer published by their original publishers. These are often, but not always, books in the public domain. The original published editions may be...


External links