FleetStreetBlues gives the lowdown on the latest online hoax to catch UK online broadsheets cold.
The hoax site at the centre of this story (since disappeared, but the contents of which are still viewable via cache) is registered to an address in Stoke Newington. However, most of its content was lifted hook line and sinker from the Mayor of Baltimore’s official site – including the contact details for various officials who could have been called at any time to verify the validity (or otherwise) of the message.
Lecturing aside, FSB suggest this howler owes a debt to the army of interns drafted in to man the press in silly season – but that’s not really the story here.
For me the most disappointing thing about this hoax is not the point it succeeded in making, but its predictability; its leaden-footed lack of ambition, which seems to be an upward trend in online hoaxing these days.
Now of course – let me be clear – I am in no way underplaying the importance of journalists checking the reliability of information they find online – the hoaxer has a point.
Message. Received. Over. And. Out.
But is the corollary of such hoaxes that we should have algorithms writing the news as well as syndicating it? It’s not like hoaxes didn’t exist before the Internets (i.e. before journalists had to deal with the demands of 24-hour news). But anyone can now leave an online banana skin for unsuspecting journalists to slip on, and this speaks to the underlying vanity which seems to inspire more than a few hoaxers today.
There was a time when online hoaxes were a bit more grand in their intentions, and a bit more nuanced in their approach – like sticking it to irresponsible multinationals, or creating a new sex craze. They worked so well because they aimed beyond the target of journalists not checking their facts, to engage with wider social issues. Afterall, whose perfect?
But today we have one-dimensional hoaxes such as David Milliband on Twitter, and fabricated quotes by Maurice Jarre. Both of which make a valid point, but the same one over and over and over again – every few weeks it seems.
We have a justified groundswell against churnalism these days, and I say we should take a similar aproach to those uninspired and self-indulgent hoaxes which bring nothing new to the table, and which (worse still) aren’t even that funny.