The best new Internet hoaxes

Come on, admit it. You fell for some of these.

You've been had. Some geeky guy with a bad comb-over just convinced you to click 100 times on your Gmail account to somehow tap into a Google TV beta.

Like any good Internet hoax, the guys who made the Google TV spoof knew that a sucker is born every minute -- or maybe that's every second in Internet time. It had all the hallmarks of a good con: a product or service that is hard to obtain yet highly desirable, a brand name that people trust, a quirky geek who seemed oblivious to the fact that he looks like the long-lost nephew of Bill Gates, and a viral video format. (Full disclosure: I fell for it, too.)

Over the past year or so, several cons have appeared in one form or another -- some in video form, and a few blog hoaxes. In some ways, it's a disturbing trend because the Internet doesn't need more inaccurate information to go along with the erroneous Wikipedia entries and opinionated blog postings. There are plenty of older hoaxes that have received more than their share of publicity, but here are my top six recent ones.

Google TV

Google TV was one of the best pranks of recent memory -- so good, we hate to even spoil it here.

Mark Erickson is the geeky tech who explains how to tap into the Google TV beta. A few keen observers noted his wry smirk throughout the video, but the hoax had one other classic con element: It was so complicated and unusual that it seemed more real. You had to follow several detailed instructions and eventually click on the Gmail logo repeatedly until the Google TV beta link appeared.

Once subscribed, you could watch endless episodes of Prison Break without paying a dime -- which is yet another incentive. What made this hoax even more interesting is that it spurred so many other related hoaxes, such as viewers showing how they made it work.

UFO Haiti

Two spaceships fly overhead in an ominous shakycam video.

Like the monster movie Cloverfield, the Haiti spaceship video was a good con because the special effects looked realistic enough -- but not so realistic that they looked like a Hollywood production. The Los Angeles Times outed the French special effects guru who created the video, although "Barzolff" (as the Times called him) was surprised by the intense reaction. Interestingly, the video is actually a precursor to a full movie about how two guys make an Internet hoax about UFOs and get into trouble for it.

Metalosis Maligna

Once again, excellent special effects and a serious tone are sure to trick even savvy viewers.

Slightly old now (the video was released over a year ago), the "Metalosis Maligna" documentary works on many levels: It holds the interests of techies, preys on our fear of technology and just looks strikingly real.

Metalosis was described as "a disease which affects patients with medical implants."

A pan shot over various body implant parts and a low rumbling soundtrack just add to the potential for public hysteria. Like the Google TV hoax, the con also plays on our desire to learn about something new and under-reported, to be "in the know" before the next guy. The film uses well-designed graphics and interviews with seemingly knowledgeable experts and mirrors the documentary style of Michael Moore and others. A matching Web site at Metalosis.com -- complete with Google ads and links to more information -- carries the ruse even further.

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John Brandon

Computerworld
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