Circulating ‘News’ snippet claims that Volat-Araneus, a dangerous species of flying spider, will migrate to the UK this year. The snippet links to a longer report discussing the supposed threat.
The message is a hoax. There is no such spider. The report discussing the fictional spider is, in fact, a humorous and innovative way of promoting a computer repair service and highlighting web safety. The report clearly states that the spider claims are untrue and outlines the site’s motives for publishing the story. But, unfortunately, many readers apparently do not read past the first few paragraphs of the report and leave the site actually believing the fake spider story.
Early Summer threatens UK with Volat-Araneus (The Flying Spider)
WARNING: not for the feint of heart! – This is an article you will definitely want to share.
Humans aren’t the only species that like the hot weather, Top Scientists and Professors from Albion University believe that Volat-Araneus (the Flying Spider) will, without a doubt, migrate to the UK this year. due to the coming hot weather and an abundance of this spiders favorite food, The False Widow.!
According to a message currently circulating via social media and email, UK residents need to watch out for a dangerous flying spider called Volat-Araneus that experts believe will soon migrate to the UK in large numbers. The message circulates in the form of a news article headline and snippet and includes a link to a more detailed report about the flying spider.
But, arachnophobics can relax. The terrifying flying spider shown in the image does not exist. The warning is a hoax. But, as hoaxes go, this one has a rather unusual history. The winged spider image first went viral online back around 2012, invoking the fear factor in many recipients as it travelled.
But, it was soon revealed that the winged spider image, artfully incorporated into a supposed newspaper clipping for extra effect, was the result of some judicious digital tomfoolery. A photograph of a common fishing spider was digitally manipulated so that it appeared to have wings. (Or perhaps the spider just downed too many Red Bulls). The source image is credited to Will Cook and is included on the North Carolina Spider Photos webpage.
Then, in March 2014, the above news snippet version of the flying spider story began going viral. The story includes the same fake newspaper-clipping image as the original hoax message.
However, there is a little more to the new version than meets the eye. The report about the flying spider is actually a rather clever method of promoting both an important web safety message and a UK based tech repair service called Digital Plumbing.
While the first part of the article spins the flying spider yarn, later paragraphs admit that the claims are untrue and explain why the site has published them. The report notes:
This article is one of thousands designed to do one thing, get your attention so you’ll visit the website (or worse). Before we continue, we need to apologize. We are sorry, but the story above is not real (if you hadn’t already realized). We have intentionally swindled you but we are truly, truly sorry. Unlike other sites at least we’re honest about it, we’re not trying to Rob you, we’re trying to help you.
The report goes onto explain that it is by clicking links without due caution – such as links to bogus news articles about non-existent flying spiders – that people often infect their computers with malware or get caught out by scammers.
The latter part of the report clearly states that the spider is not real and the information about the spider offers several in-text hints that the claims are fictional. But, alas, many people will quickly skim read only the first few paragraphs, missing the less than subtle clues that the story is false, and leaving the site well before they get to the disclaimer. And, many will then share the fake news item with all of their online friends.
It is by this mechanism that so much misleading and inaccurate nonsense makes its way around the interwebs. If only users would take an extra few seconds to read articles more thoroughly – and employ a modicum of critical thinking – then I’m sure cyberspace would quickly become less garbage-cluttered. And, not as many users would become victims of scams or pointless online pranks.
These new – more sensible and aware – Internet users would never blindly click links or open attachments in unsolicited messages. They would never buy products promoted via spam, thus rapidly putting the spammers out of business. In short order, the Internet would become a considerably more benign and productive environment in which to work and play.
And I could ease off on Hoax-Slaying and blog about worm farming, or making beautiful compost. But, alas, I digress. Tis but a fanciful dream.