The Museum of Hoaxes
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Vilcabamba, the town of very old people, 1978
Jernegan's Gold Accumulator Scam, 1898
BMW's April Fool's Day Hoaxes
Life discovered on the moon, 1835
Sober Sue, the woman who never smiled, 1907
Eccentric's last prank, 66 years after his death, 1900
Van Gogh's ear exhibited, 1935
September Morn, the painting that shocked the censor, 1913
The Case of the Vanishing Belly Button, 1964
Did Paul McCartney die on Nov. 9, 1966?
Microsoft Buys the Catholic Church, 1994
In 1994 a press release began circulating online, primarily via email, claiming that Microsoft had bought the Catholic church. (Click here to read the press release.) The announcement, which bore a Vatican City dateline, noted that this was "the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion." The release then quoted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as saying that he considered religion to be a growth market and that, "The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people." Under the terms of the deal, Microsoft would acquire exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and would make the sacraments available online.

Most of the release was clearly parody. For instance, it compared the business practices of Microsoft to the Catholic Church's historical conversion efforts, claiming that throughout history the Church, like Microsoft, had been "an aggressive competitor, leading crusades to pressure people to upgrade to Catholicism, and entering into exclusive licensing arrangements in various kingdoms whereby all subjects were instilled with Catholicism, whether or not they planned to use it."

Despite the parody, a number of readers were apparently confused and telephoned Microsoft's public relations agency to inquire if the news was true. This prompted Microsoft to issue a formal denial of the release on December 16, 1994.

Significance

This was the first internet hoax to reach a mass audience and attracted a significant amount of media attention. Its success was interpreted as demonstrating the power of the internet to disseminate information, or misinformation, in ways that sidestepped the traditional gatekeepers of the media.

A follow-up release announced that in response to Microsoft's acquisition of the Catholic Church, IBM had bought the Episcopal Church. The authors of these hoaxes remain unknown.

Links and References
  • "Church Mourns Miracle That Might Have Been," The Seattle Times (December 20, 1994): B2.
Categories: Internet, Email, Religion, 1990-1999
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All text Copyright © 2014 by Alex Boese, except where otherwise indicated. All rights reserved.