This story was first published on July 20th, 2010
A journalist recently asked me if I thought modern technology such as email, social media, and the Internet has made it easier to perpetrate hoaxes than it was in earlier times.
Well, yes I think modern technology certainly has made it easier to perpetrate hoaxes.
A hoax or rumour that may have once remained localized to one geographic area or taken months or even years to spread far from its origin can now rocket around the world in days or even hours via social networking, email, blogs, online forums, chat and SMS. Technology allows such stories to spread much more quickly and much more widely than they ever would have in the past.
It is also fairly easy nowadays to deliberately create a fake website that seemingly confirms the claims in an email message. This technique has been used very effectively by phishing scammers but pranksters have also used it to their advantage. Anyone with moderate web development skills can create a bogus webpage that looks like a news article. Even cautious Internet users might be caught out if a hoax message links to what appears to be a legitimate news story on the subject.
Moreover, image manipulation software such as Photoshop makes it easy to create very realistic, but bogus pictures to go with the hoaxes. With a little manipulation, a “photograph” can make a politician look stupid, show a ghost or monster, or depict an event that never happened.
Of course, hoaxes have long been a deeply entrenched facet of human cultures everywhere. And the wonderful and varied means of almost instant communication that characterize our times have become perfect vehicles for the modern breed of hoaxes.
Readily accessible technology can now provide everything a creative prankster needs to pull off a quite sophisticated hoax and catapult it around the planet in short order. Relatively speaking, the Internet and computer technology is still new and many current users are apparently naive enough to fall for modern day hoaxes, sometimes over and over again.
That said, as modern technology becomes increasingly integrated into every facet of our everyday lives, we can perhaps hope that more and more users will develop more and more sensitive BS meters.
On the other hand, given the long and rather sorry history of human gullibility, perhaps not!