The Top 25 Web Hoaxes and Pranks

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Hoaxes 16 Through 20

The world of weird eBay auction items starts off this page, which concludes with a photo hoax purporting to show a 1950s-era vision of the home computer of tomorrow.

16. Sell It on eBay! (1995)

You won't believe what people have sold on eBay--some of the items pranks, some of them for real, and some, well, it's hard to tell. For a sampling of the weird, you need look no further than a haunted tree stump and a pork chop shaped like a grizzly bear. The Internet itself once went on the market at a modest starting bid of a million bucks, as have a dozen spontaneous images of the Virgin Mary (on toast, on windows, and heaven only knows where else). Bidders have also had a shot at someone's soul, a guy's virginity, and a human kidney, with the price of this last item having reached $5.7 million before eBay pulled the plug. (Hey, guys, don't you know that what you lose in Las Vegas is supposed to stay in Las Vegas?)

But my favorite eBay offering involves a tattooed guy who, as a joke, dressed up in his ex-wife's size 12 wedding gown and put it up for auction. Only, the dress ended up selling for $3850, and the guy got five marriage proposals. Nice.

17. Chinese Newspaper Duped (2002)

Schematic view of the proposed "modern facility" for Congress.
Information on the Internet may want to be free--but if it's posted by a for-profit publisher, you'd better take it with a grain of salt. That's the lesson learned by China's Beijing Evening News, which was taken in by the Onion's
Capitol Dome spoof. Famous for its authentic-sounding but tongue-in-cheek articles steeped in the language of the Associated Press, the Onion reported that Congress had threatened to leave Washington, D.C., and head for Memphis unless the District agreed to erect a new domed Capitol building with a retractable roof and luxury box seating. Having accepted most of the Onion article at face value, the Chinese newspaper at first stood by its source in the face of international derision and refused to back down. When it finally published a retraction, it blamed the Onion for the confusion: "Some small American newspapers frequently fabricate offbeat news to trick people into noticing them with the aim of making money." Right.

18. The Muppets Have Not Already Won (2001)

Osama and Bert: a Sesame Street connection to terrorism?
Osama and Bert: a Sesame Street connection to terrorism?
In early October 2001, just prior to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, protesters at an anti-American rally in Bangladesh showed their support for Osama bin Laden by marching, chanting, and waving placards. One of the posters captured on film by Reuters News Agency was a photo-montage of the Al-Qaeda leader, and in one of the shots a yellow felt puppet to his right glowers furiously at the camera. It's...Bert of Sesame Street. Originally a Zelig-inspired creation of San Francisco Webmaster Dino Ignacio, the satirical Web site Bert Is Evil depicted Bert hobnobbing with the worst of the worst in history, tormenting his roommate Ernie, and generally reveling in wickedness. After Ignacio retired from active efforts to expose Bert's career of evil, others filled the Photoshop void, capturing the cone-headed miscreant with all the latest baddies-du-jour.

Evidently, the company responsible for printing the pro-Osama poster found the doctored dual portrait irresistible, although (according to the Urban Legends References Pages) its production manager claims to have produced about 2000 copies of the Osama-and-Bert poster without realizing "what they signified." Well, if you can't trust pictures you find on the Internet, what can you trust?

Image courtesy of

19. Chevrolet's Not-So-Better Idea (2006)

The ad folks at Chevrolet thought they had a winner: Let site visitors create their own 30-second commercial for the company's 2007 Chevy Tahoe SUV. It'll be fun, they probably thought. We'll give them a choice of video clips and soundtracks, and let them add their own text captions. Yep, viral marketing at its best.

Unfortunately for Chevrolet, a few pranksters decided to use the opportunity to express what they thought of the SUV. One commercial said, "Like this snowy wilderness? Better get your fill of it now. Then say hello to global warming." Another lambasted the SUV as a gas guzzler: "Our planet's oil is almost gone. You don't need G.P.S. to see where this road leads."

20. Rand's 1954 Home Computer (2004)

This intriguing image of a room-size computer made the rounds of the Internet, accompanied by a breathless blurb: "This article is from an issue of 1954 'Popular Mechanics' magazine forecasting the possibility of 'home computers' in 50 years." The steering wheel in the picture is the predecessor to today's mouse, and the keyboard looks like those on teletype machines. It even comes complete with a guy right out of the Eisenhower era.

Cool stuff, and easy to believe--but it's not a 1950s Rand Corporation mockup of what a prototype home computer might look like. It's actually a shot that was taken of a submarine display at the Smithsonian Institution and subsequently modified for inclusion in a image-manipulation competition.

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