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|•||Pretend chef on five morning TV shows 03/04/2014|
|•||Image of "Aurora from Space" going viral is a hoax 02/28/2014|
|•||Supposed Ghost Caught on Securtiy Cam at Britain Pub 02/22/2014|
|•||Anyone up for a challenge? 02/20/2014|
|•||Bruno Gröning Documentary Film 02/15/2014|
|•||Science, Pseudoscience, and Crap 02/04/2014|
|•||Fake Snow 02/03/2014|
|•||Tapeworms ≠ Weight Loss 02/01/2014|
|•||NASA sued for failing to investigate Martian Fungus 01/30/2014|
|•||Jan. 25th--A Room of Ones Own Day 01/25/2014|
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Status: Probably a hoaxThe latest mystery to capture the short attention span of the internet is ThatGirlEmily. It's a blog, supposedly written by "Emily" who during the past two weeks has discovered that her husband "Steven" is cheating on her. Coincidentally she started her blog just before all these interesting things in her life began occuring. Yesterday she decided to get even with Steven by placing a large billboard near where he works with this message on it: Emily's blog and billboard, as almost everyone who has posted about it agrees, just screams viral marketing. AtleastIhavechicken.com has summarized some of the reasons why it's probably a viral marketing campaign:
1) Emily has gone to some effort to conceal her identity;
2) Her blog is too well written (grammatically speaking) and the story unfolds a little too neatly to be real;
3) Since she started her blog, someone using the username ThatGirlEmily has been comment spamming numerous message boards. See here, and here, and here.
4) In addition to the billboard in New York (which seems to be real), an identical billboard has also been spotted in LA. The dual billboards, in my opinion, is the real clincher, because why would Emily, if she were real, pay for billboards in different cities?
I don't know who's the mastermind behind ThatGirlEmily, but here are the leading theories:
1) It's a viral created by an outdoor billboard company, to demonstrate the effectiveness of billboard advertising. (kind of like the Outhouse Springs campaign.)
2) Or it's a viral for a Court TV show. Possibly Parco P.I. (this is Gawker's favorite theory.)
Emily vows 14 days of vengeance. So I'm sure we'll eventually know the real story behind this.
Status: FictionalUnflinching Triumph, a recently released movie, explores the little-known subculture of Professional Staredown contests (aka Staring Contests). You can view the movie in its entirety online (free and legal!), or view the trailer at YouTube.
If you believe the movie, there really is such a thing as professional staredown contests. This illusion is strengthened by the website of the National Association of Staredown Professionals (NASP) and the website of Staredown Champion Tony Patterson. However, I'm pretty sure that the movie is a mockumentary, and that the NASP and Tony Patterson sites are part of the joke.
But I started wondering if perhaps the movie was based on a germ of truth. Is there some kind of subculture of staring enthusiasts? After all if cup stacking or chess boxing can be sports, why not staring? So I checked on Lexis Nexis to see if there was any mention of Staring as a professional sport in any paper for the past five years. But there doesn't seem to be. Wikipedia doesn't make note of any such thing either, though it does mention that some people like to challenge their pets to staring contests.
Status: Viral Marketing CampaignI've received a few emails asking me for info about noscruf.org. It appears, on the surface, to be a site created by the NO SCRUF organization, which stands for "National Organization of Social Crusaders Repulsed by Unshaven Faces." It's supposedly a growing coalition of women who have vowed not to shave until men start shaving. Their website, which features lots of photos of hirsute models (obviously photoshopped, or using glue-on hair), proclaims: "Let's end the trend of prickly, scratchy, stubbly faces. We're not going to shave until men do." Last week a No Scruf protest rally was also held in New York's Herald Square featuring TV stars Kelly Monaco and Brooke Burke.
It's pretty easy to figure out that this isn't a real grassroots movement of stubble-hating women. It's a viral marketing campaign dreamed up by Gillette. I figured this out by doing a quick search for domain name info about noscruf.org. Turns out the site's name was registered by Procter & Gamble and the site itself is hosted on servers owned by Gillette. They didn't even try to hide this information.
As for No Scruf's message, I hate shaving, so despite Gillette's efforts to convince me otherwise, I'm keeping my stubble.
Status: RealHere's another site to add to my ongoing list of unfortunate URLs OMFG.com. The site explains that OMFG stands for 'Official Meeting Facilities Guide.' They claim to be "the industry’s leading meeting planning print directory for the most active meeting professionals." They seem to have no clue that OMFG is more commonly used as an acronym for a different phrase ('Oh My F***ing God'). But having this URL probably generates a fair amount of traffic for them, so maybe it was an intentional choice. Plus, it's an easy URL to remember. (Thanks to Kathy for the link.)
Status: HoaxYahoo News! reports on a hoax website, http://www.instoresnow.nl, created by a Dutch design student, Raoul Balai. It pretends to be an ad agency that offers advertising space on the bodies of prostitutes. It also offers to place ads on zoo animals. Big Gary points out that this is basically a variation on the old 'advertise on my forehead... or other body part' stunt. (Imagine brothel patrons or zoo goers having to wear body-ad blockers.) Yahoo News! reports: I've been trying to check out Balai's site, but it won't load. The increased traffic from being mentioned on Yahoo News! must be the reason.
Status: Social ExperimentA couple of people have asked me if I know anything about eon8.com, a mysterious website that features a clock counting down to July 1 (tomorrow). Unfortunately I don't know anything about it. Though I guess we'll all find out what it is tomorrow, unless we just get another cryptic clue once the clock reaches 0.
According to Wikipedia, the leading theories are that it's a) an alternate reality game, b) some kind of distribution system for computer viruses (unlikely, I think), or c) a viral marketing scheme (perhaps a viral created by EON Productions to promote their next film, Casino Royale).
I can't think of anything else 'eon 8' would refer to. The poet WB Yeats developed an elaborate system of occult theory which held that history progresses through various spiritual eons each of which has their own special character. But I'm highly doubtful that the eon8 website is a reference to Yeatsian theosophy.
The domain registration info is also a dead end. It was registered via Domains by Proxy back in December 2005.
My hunch is that it probably will turn out to be option c: a viral marketing scheme.
Update: The eon8 site is now loading very slowly, if at all.
Update 2: You can check out an investigation of eon8 at http://eon8theinvestigation.ytmnd.com/.
Update 3: With the countdown completed, the secret behind eon8 has been revealed. It was a social experiment created by a 23-year-old web designer named Mike from Florida. He wanted to find out "the reactions of the internet public to lack of information." He discovered that a lot of people thought it might be a terrorist site (because of the ominous map it displayed with red dots over major population centers). Others, as I noted above, speculated it might be some kind of viral marketing scheme. Mike says that he's disappointed so many people assumed the site had evil intentions, but that reaction doesn't seem very illogical to me. After all, if you encounter someone that is obviously hiding something, why would you assume their intentions are benign? Also, looking at it from the perspective of social psychology, the site violated the norm of openness that exists on the internet. This would explain why it generated a hostile reaction from some. Groups always try to punish those who violate their norms.
Status: ParodyOperationEMU.com offers up "Statements, theories and artifacts related to the alleged 1974 NASA experiment during which an entire Hollywood film crew, contracted by the government, disappeared in a remote section of Nevada." This seems to be the jist of what the site alleges happened: The Hollywood film crew was there to help stage a training exercise for the NASA-led Operation EMU (which stands for Operation Experimental Mitigated Universe). Operation EMU itself was some kind of NASA project to prepare for alien contact. And somehow a group of Meemaw Indians performing a solstice ritual were involved in this.
Sound a little bizarre? I think that's the intention. The site was created by B. Brandon Barker to promote his novel, for which he's shopping for a publisher. (The article about him in the Baltimore Sun should definitely help his chances with that.) Barker says that he designed his novel to be a parody of "pretentious sci-fi films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and the cult of alien-life true believers" (Hey, I like 2001: A Space Odyssey!). The strange thing is that although Barker's plot is pure fiction, some people now believe elements of it to be real. At least, according to the Baltimore Sun: Shades of Alternative Three there. If you create a hoax about a government cover-up, some people will inevitably insist that revealing it as a hoax is part of the cover-up.
Status: Hoax (art project)Meet Genpets, the cute, cuddly (kind of ugly) pets of the future, that come shrinkwrapped in plastic: It should be pretty obvious that Genpets aren't real, though the Genpets site is well designed. The Genpets site is the creation of artist Adam Brandejs. Apparently he's actually been hanging these things in store windows. And the real-life versions of them look like they're alive, thanks to some robotics and circuitry. He writes: (Thanks to Torbjørn Solstad for the link)
Status: HoaxHere's a hoax that I missed while away in Scotland. Geoff (who withheld his last name) claimed to be a twenty-five-year-old virgin. He launched a website (avirginsplea.com) on May 1, declaring that if his site received five million hits by the end of the month, a girl he knew had promised to sleep with him. Soon blogs were linking to his site to help him out, and the media (unable, as always, to resist an unusual story about sex) deluged him with requests for interviews. Predictably, it all turned out to be a hoax. Geoff, although a real person, was not a virgin, as reporters found out who tracked down a former girlfriend of his. In addition, Geoff hadn't created the site. He was merely the front man for it. The creator of the site was web designer Matthew Gamble who had intended it, so he later claimed, to be an experiment in viral marketing.
I learned about this hoax yesterday when I got a call from MTV Canada, who, after initially having been taken in by the hoax, were now interviewing Gamble on air. They telephoned me to get my opinion as a 'hoax expert'. Specifically, they were very curious about whether Gamble's hoax warranted inclusion in the Museum of Hoaxes. I assured them that it did, which seemed to make them happy. I didn't add that my standards for what warrants inclusion on the site are pretty low. As long as something sounds kind of hoaxy, I'll post about it on my blog. (The standards for what makes it into the Gallery sections of the site are much higher.)
I should also note that avirginsplea.com was a spoof of helpwinmybet.com, a site launched in March by a guy claiming that his girlfriend had agreed to a threesome if his site received two million hits. To my knowledge helpwinmybet.com hasn't been exposed as a hoax, per se, but I'm guessing that it's just a scheme to generate revenue from ads for dating sites.
Status: TyposquatterMy wife just discovered this. If you misspell museumofhoaxes.com by switching he 'e' and the 'u' in museum (a very easy mistake to make), you'll arrive at The Musuem of Hoaxes, which contains links to info about museums. It's obviously a site created by a spammer hoping to profit off of people who are trying to get to the Museum of Hoaxes, but who aren't great spellers. I probably shouldn't link to this alternative version of the Museum (I'm only sending more traffic to the spammer), but I'm kind of flattered that someone thought it was worth their time to create this. According to Larry Adams, author of Fraud In Other Words, this kind of practice (registering misspelled domain names) is called typosquatting:
Typosquatting is the intentional use of misspelled domain names and meta tags to misdirect Internet traffic or revenue from one Web site to another. It is based on the probability that a certain number of Internet users will mistype the URL or name of a Web site. Typically, a typosquatter registers several possible input errors for a Web site of a famous company, brand name or celebrity known for its high traffic. The typosquatter monitors the bogus sites to see how many clicks a day each of their "typo" domain names receives, and uses the information to sell advertising for the sites that receive a high volume of accidental traffic. Advertising revenue might come from selling ads to the original site's competitors or by providing redirect pages to gambling and porn sites.
Status: follow-up info about a hoaxA month ago I posted about Plastic Assets, a faux credit card company offering free breast implants as a sign-up bonus. I noted that the site was an entrant in the Contagious Festival, a contest to create a high-traffic parody site. Now Plastic Assets has officially won the contest, receiving five times more visitors than its closest competitor. And the media, typically late to the party, are announcing that the site has just been revealed to be a hoax. (Even though I know I wasn't the only site to point out that this was a hoax last month.)
According to the CanWest News Service article, Plastic Assets was designed by Shari Graydon, author of In Your Face: The Culture of Beauty and You, and the site "attracted hundreds of female applicants and more than 130,000 visitors." Graydon concludes from this that "The degree to which our site was believed to be credible despite how over the top it was underlines the fact that people aren't bringing critical thinking skills to what they read on the Internet."
I agree that many people are too gullible about claims they encounter on the internet, but in this instance I'm skeptical about how many people really were fooled. I don't think there's any correlation between the number of visitors the site had, or even the number of applicants it received, and the amount of people who believed it to be real. I figure that most of its visitors recognized it as a joke, and probably filled out the application as a joke also.
Status: HoaxI have pretty bad eyesight and have worn contacts most of my life, but up until now I've never been tempted to try Lasik surgery. However, I am tempted to give this new LASIK@Home device a try. It's the "Affordable In-Home LASIK Surgery You Can Do Yourself!™":
LASIK@Home is the same patented surgical procedure performed at eye clinics around the world, but without the unnecessary equipment and staff.
I like the instructions for use: "1) Find a quiet place with no distractions; 2) Unpack your LASIK@Home™ Kit; 3) Perform the painless procedure. Don't blink!"
It's pretty obvious that this is a hoax. First of all, the idea of home laser surgery is clearly insane. Second, the ordering form is broken, meaning you can't buy the device, but the site does sell Cafepress t-shirts! (T-shirt sales are always a reliable hoax indicator.) Third, google ads on a supposedly commercial site are another hoax giveaway. The domain was registered anonymously via domains by proxy, so I wasn't able to find out who the author of this is. (Thanks to Captain DaFt for the link.)