Most online hoaxes are mildly annoying, and a few are hilarious. But propagating a false AMBER Alert over Twitter? Plastering an epilepsy forum with flashing images? Not cool. We'll take a look at some of the Web's most heinous hoaxes over the years, and sprinkle in a handful of amusing ones.
Twitter/Facebook Amber Alert
The AMBER Alert system--a child abduction alert system broadcast over radio, TV, satellite radio, and other media whenever a child is abducted--was created after nine-year-old Amber Hagerman was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1996. Recently, some users have also broadcast alerts over text messages and Twitter.
Last July, someone tweeted an AMBER Alert for a three-year-old girl. People responded by spreading the alert as fast and as far as they could. It turned out to be a false alarm. A similar sequence of panicked, rapid-fire tweeting followed another false AMBER Alert occurred in September.
How heinous is this? Though we're glad that no abduction occurred in either case, there's a disturbing "cry wolf" aspect to the story--what happens the next time a real AMBER Alert goes out? For eroding the value of a potentially vital line of defense against child abduction, this hoax sets the platinum standard for repugnance.
Paging PETA: In 2001, a group of enterprising MIT grad students put together a little Web site called Bonsai Kitten, which detailed how to grow a kitten in a jar for aesthetic purposes.
The site included tips on how to insert a feeding tube and a waste removal tube, and where to drill air-holes "prior to kitten insertion." It also included a gallery of pictures of "Bonsai Kittens" and a guestbook filled with love (and hate) mail.
The site was so realistic that it caused uproar among kitty enthusiasts and animal rights activists (including the Humane Society), and it eventually gained enough notoriety that the FBI investigated the site's authenticity (or lack thereof). But since no kittens were actually harmed in the perpetration of this hoax, we think it tends more toward the hilarious than the heinous.
Epilepsy Forum Raid
Anonymous, a group of online pranksters, has been blamed for an array of notorious acts of Internet grief--from uploading porn on YouTube to launching denial-of-service attacks on Scientology sites. Some of the pranks they allegedly pulled are a bit more serious, however, such as the Epilepsy Forum Raid.
In March of 2008, an epilepsy support forum run by the Epilepsy Foundation of America was attacked with uploads of flashing animations. The National Society for Epilepsy, based in the UK, fell prey to a similar attack.
The animations--which were clearly intended to induce seizures and/or migraines in epileptics--can be very dangerous for epilepsy sufferers. The attack was investigated by the FBI, which found no connections to the group Anonymous. Internet speculation has attributed the attack variously to The Internet Hate Machine, to 7chan.org, or to eBaum's World.