Thursday, July 22, 2010

Do Hoaxes Still Exist in the 21st Century?

From those “factually fraudulent” Wikipedia edits to documents purportedly proving that President Obama is not an American citizen, are hoaxes still alive and well in the 21st Century?

By: Ringo Bones

A hoax is most commonly defined as “a deception for mockery or mischief”. A term that’s often extended to include all sorts of frauds, fakes, swindles and forgeries and impostures, as well as the supposedly well-meaning practical joke or two. Such hoaxes all have one binding theme – they are deliberately concocted untruths massaged to masquerade as factual information. Being so, such hoaxes are – in the end – distinguishable from honest errors in observation or in judgment. More importantly, behind every hoax stands a hoaxer. This inventor of humbug – where he or she is successful in making us believe his or her “whoppers”, more often than not has a deeper and more far-reaching effect on the shaping of public opinion, beliefs, customs that he or she intends.

Politics, religion, science, art and literature are only few of the fields in which hoaxers have operated during most of recorded history. Since only a comparably small number of people have any real knowledge of what is going on in any particular field, it is all too easy to fool most of the general public. As our society becomes more complex knowledge wise, we became more and more dependent on others for our information, especially from fields of specialty other than our own. Thus we tend to accept as true whatever reaches us through such usually reliable channels of information as – for example – printed media, the radio, TV, or the Internet, or whatever comes to us as statements of supposed experts or pundits.

When a hoaxer simulates behavior which is usually trustworthy in his or her peer group, he or she will be believed unless actual motives for disbelief exist. Peripheral incentives to believe, such as hope or financial gain, advancement of a pet cause, vanity chauvinism, and the reinforcement of prejudices of various kinds – operate on the hoaxer’s behalf, making the unsuspecting victim to accept the hoax as factual because he or she, for the longest time, desperately wants the idea driving the hoax to be true. So don’t be hopeful that whimsical Wikipedia entries like David Beckham being an 18th Century Chinese goalkeeper or Slash being the inventor of single-coil guitar pickups will ever end.

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