One of the most beautiful things about the internet is that there is no filter. Anyone who has something to say is free to say it. There are no restrictions.
However, this means that the internet can sometimes be an unreliable source of information. Someone, either to have some fun or to cause some serious harm, can create content for the web that looks real but that simply isn't.
In some cases, these internet hoaxes are relatively innocuous. They don't ruin people's lives. But in other, more serious cases, falling for an internet hoax can have some devastating consequences, such as financial loss, identity theft, or personal harm.
As a result, it's important to be vigilant and keep an eye out for hoaxes. A well-trained eye will be able to spot them easily enough and avoid them without harm, keeping the internet a safe place to consumer information and be entertained.
But a well-designed hoax can fool even the best. To highlight this and also to show why it's so important to be on the lookout. We've put together a list of the 10 craziest internet hoaxes in history.
This one makes the list of craziest internet hoaxes simply because of how good a job it did at fooling so many people.
The hoax was a video blog, or a vlog, featuring a teenage girl, Bree, aka lonelygirl15, who at first seemed to be using the platform as a way to vent about the stresses of growing up. However, over time, the vlog started referencing various "secret" practices within the family, suggesting Bree was being indoctrinated by her parents into a cult that engaged in all sorts of dark activity.
Many people were convinced the vlog was a real account, and they began to inquire about where Bree was living to coordinate getting her help. However, soon thereafter, it was revealed that the videos were false, created by a group of three filmmakers.
Interestingly, though, this fictional vlog has convinced so many people and hooked them to the story that it became a web series that lasted for three years and had at its peak some 110 million views.
Also, lonelygirl15 came out shortly after YouTube was made available to the public, showing how powerful well-made, user-generated content could be.
In fact, many argue this series helped put YouTube on the map and turn it into what it is today. So, while we might feel a bit bad for those who fell for this hoax and thought Bree was in danger, we can take their shame as a necessary sacrifice for the birth of a social media platform now so near and dear to our hearts.
Hoaxes such as this can probably only be pulled off once, as viewers will always be more skeptical of stories similar to lonelygirl15. However, the show's creators got the timing just right and were able to parlay their viral success into sustained viewership for their show.
2. Nigerian Scam
This one is crazy simply because it seems to have around for ages, yet it continues to fool people and leave them wondering what happened.
The hoax is simple. Someone will send you an email explaining to you how they have a problem and they need your help. Traditionally, that problem involves getting money out of a foreign country, but sometimes it involves a kidnapping or just plain old desperation.
They will claim to have a means of paying you back, hoping to convince you to send them an advance to get them out of the jam they've found themselves in.
The hoax gets the name "Nigerian Scam" because the first versions of it included a deposed Nigerian prince who needed help getting out of the country, but many different variations of this scam have been created throughout the years.
Detailing the hoax highlights its simplicity but also how obviously fake it is. This really makes you wonder how someone could fall for such a trick but it happens to people all the time. Scammers are good, and sometimes they say the right thing to the right person and get them to act.
Hopefully, you'll now be able to spot attempts to fool you such as this one before it's too late. Here's a classic example of one:
3. Everything Will Be Deleted
This particular hoax has been around in some version or another for ages.
Typically, when one of these hoaxes comes out, it spreads like wildfire around the internet before the company in question needs to come out and debunk it. This happened very recently on Instagram.
It's unclear why this hoax keeps working, and what the person responsible for starting it is hoping to gain except for getting people all worked up. But whatever their reason, people keep falling for it, turning this into one of the most durable internet hoaxes of all time.
4. Charge an iPod With an Onion
A good hoax delicately walks the line between absurd and believable. Something too ridiculous will turn people away, but something too normal will not convince people to pay attention.
Perhaps no other hoax in internet history has achieved this balance more than the "How to Charge an iPod With an Onion."
Posted as a video from a well-known site that had done hoaxes before but that had also published a good amount of legitimate content, this hoax provided people with instructions on, yes, charging iPods with an onion.
The video demonstrated that if you poured Gatorade over the onion - to load it with electrolytes - and then plugged the USB end of your charger directly into the onion, you would be able to charge your device.
In the video, you see the USB plugged into the onion, and then you are shown the flashing lights on the iPod screen which indicate it's charging, although it's much more likely that this was taken from an iPod plugged into an outlet.
This hoax reminds us how the absurd if described plausibly, can seem more believable. Countless people plugged their iPods into an onion to see if they could get a charge, but no one did. Some even reported damage to their device as a result of plugging it into an onion soaked with Gatorade. Imagine that.
5. Hercules the Horse-Sized Dog
A fun, harmless hoax that reminds us all how some good Photoshop work can turn you into an internet sensation. The image in question shows a woman walking with a horse and then another woman walking with "Hercules," who is said to be the world's largest dog. The claim was that Hercules was a 282-pound English Mastiff who was as tall as a horse.
As you can see, the image looks quite real, and it fooled millions into thinking this massive beast was roaming around somewhere, the leash held onto by someone with a death wish who could never hope to stop Hercules if he decided to move quickly.
However, further analysis of the photo has revealed it to be a fake. The convincing factor? The dog in the photo, if it were genuinely that big, would have to weigh close to 2,000 pounds, a simple impossibility.
Interestingly, there was a dog named Hercules who was once named as the world's largest dog by the Guinness Book of World Records. But it was not the same dog as the one in the photo, giving further evidence to the claim that this photo was doctored to make the dog look much bigger than he actually is.
6. Manti Te'o's Girlfriend
People fall for internet hoaxes all the time, but when a celebrity falls for one, it calls them to our attention and reminds us how easy it is to get tricked on the internet.
A great example of this is what happened to Manti Te'o, a star linebacker for Notre Dame in 2012. As far as Te'o knew, he'd been involved in a relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua from his home state Hawaii. Away at school, Te'o rarely saw "her" except for the few visits he made back home in between his busy football schedule.
All of this seemed normal until 2012 when Kekua was alleged to have been in a near-fatal car accident, was diagnosed with leukemia, and then passed away. Te'o was distressed, but shortly afterward it was revealed in the press that Kekua had never actually existed. Her social media accounts were fake - the photo used on her Facebook profile belonged to another woman - and the person Te'o had been meeting in Hawaii claiming to be Kekua was actually Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, an acquaintance of Te'o who had set out to mess with his head by inventing this personality and maintaining a bogus relationship.
This is a perfect example of "don't think it can't happen." Te'o had actually met someone who claimed to be this woman he had been dating, so you can't blame him too much for falling for this act. But this just goes to show you the lengths some people will go to trick people, and how easy the internet can make it for them.
7. The Derbyshire Fairy
Perhaps more a case of wishful thinking than true gullibility, the Derbyshire Fairy hoax emerged when Dan Baines, a former prop-maker from Derbyshire, England, posted an eBay advertisement for the corpse of a fairy he had found near his home.
Many people immediately identified it as a fake, but quite a few took this claim seriously. Baines received countless emails from people asking for more information about the fairy such as where he found it, if he'd seen it alive, as well as more details about its physical appearance. Some people even went so far as to warn Baines about the fairy's supernatural characteristics, suggesting he return it to where he found to avoid the danger it could pose.
Part of the reason this hoax was a success was because of the authenticity of the fairy Baines created. As a prop-maker, he had the skills necessary to make something that looked believable. After that, he just needed a story. People's imaginations did the rest.
8. The Bill Gates Scam
One of the ways scammers and pranksters will try to get you to fall for their tricks is by making it seem like they are someone who carries more weight in society. An email from a random person doesn't seem all that serious, but if it comes from someone such as, say, Bill Gates, well then that's a different story.
The Bill Gates email chain scam is crazy because of how long it's been around. Versions of it have been kicking around the internet since the late 1990s when the web was just going mainstream.
Essentially, the email says that you have been chosen to help Microsoft test a new program and that by forwarding the email, you will be helping them collect valuable information. The email also often suggests that you can earn money if the people you forward the email to turn around and forward it to more people.
Presumably, the hope is to get people to spread around a virus that installs malware and steals people's information, so if you get an email promising to pay you for doing nothing more than forwarding it to some friends, think twice about clicking the link and sending that message to people you know.
9. Deodorants and Breast Cancer
A hoax such as this one reminds us how easy it is to spread mistruths on the internet if you have the right type of content and can get it in front of the right people.
This one plays a bit on people's fears of losing their health and is an example of how one can use this fear to cause mass hysteria on the internet.
All this hoax did was claim that using deodorant, a product most of us (we hope) use daily, would raise your risk of getting cancer, specifically breast cancer.
It first appeared as a published scientific study from a UK professor out of the University of Reading. That it appeared in this context caused many different news outlets to pick it up and pass it off as truth, but they did this before the scientific community has the chance to verify the results. But this didn't stop people from panicking.
It fooled people because of the logic behind the claim. Essentially, some scientists made the logical leap that the aluminum used in most antiperspirants, which works by essentially plugging your sweat glands, can cause an increase in the estrogen your body produces (which is true), and that because breast cancer is often brought on in part by an increase of estrogen in the body, antiperspirants must directly cause breast cancer.
On the surface level, this seems to make sense. But the claim is essentially assuming that a) an increase in estrogen is guaranteed to cause breast cancer, and b) the minor increase in estrogen caused by antiperspirants also leads to cancer. Neither assumption has ever been proved true by a credible scientific study.
However, this doesn't seem to matter in the world of internet hoaxes. If it seems plausible, people will believe it. And then they will share it, giving this falsehood legs in the digital world.
In this situation, all the hoax did was cause unnecessary fear about the use of a household product we've always considered to be completely safe. But in other instances, such as when fake news is created and distributed on the web, a hoax such as this can have a profound impact on society as a whole. Just take a look at Brexit, or the 2016 US presidential election, for proof.
10. Spoofed Websites
If you're not convinced that internet hackers and scammers aren't good at what they do, then take a look at some of this "spoofed" website. Spoofed websites are fake versions of real websites that look so real you often can't tell the difference unless you're looking really hard. Here is an example:
Usually, hackers will use these to try and get you to willingly hand over personal information, such as your account name and password, or your credit card/social security number. Obviously, falling for a ploy like this can have devastating consequences. Yet because of how well these fake sites are disguised, it's all too easy to be fooled. This is why it's so important to be extremely vigilant while on the web, especially when you are being asked to hand over information you otherwise wouldn't share.
How to Avoid Falling for a Hoax
No one is perfect, and even the most vigilant eyes can be deceived. But falling for a hoax can lead to at best embarrassment for having been tricked into either believing, or worse, sharing false information, but it can also lead to identity theft and financial loss.
As a result, it's important you know how to spot hoaxes and protect yourself on the web. The examples we've discussed above help to show you the diversity of the hoaxes being shared online, but here are some more general tips for helping you stay safe:
· Double-check if something is real. Whether it's an exclusive offer, a request for account verification, or a piece of interesting news, always double-check to make sure what you're seeing is real. A simple Google search will help you find stories of others who have come across this, and their experience can often save you the trouble that comes from falling for a hoax. Double-check news stories with other sources, and use sites such as Snopes.com to learn what others are saying about something spreading around the web like wildfire.
· Be a defensive web user. Much like driving, it's smart to establish a defensive approach to your web use. Trust the sites you trust, but always be watchful, and assume new sites or other unknown entities are up to something before you trust. Confirm everything is on the up and up and then proceed. Of course, we would all like to think the people we encounter on the web would never hurt us, but this is simply not reality. It's much better to be on the defensive.
· Use antivirus software and take steps to defend yourself. Antivirus software will alert you when you've arrived at a site that doesn't seem credible, and it will prevent unwanted downloads from making it onto your computer. You'll also want to make sure all your accounts are protected with secure passwords so that you can minimize any damage that might occur should you fall for a hoax and/or get hacked.
Don't Be Fooled
Generally speaking, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. So, when you get an email saying forward this to your friends and Bill Gates will pay you, and you think "Sweet! How easy is that?!" Stop yourself and think about whether or not this makes sense.
Navigating our digital world with a skeptical eye might sound like a paranoid thing to do, but in this crazy world we live in, it might just be the only way to save yourself from acting a fool and falling for an internet hoax.