Fool me once…
In today’s technology-saturated Internet age, fake news and misinformation are everywhere. But these are by no means new concepts! People have always had the tendency to dupe and be duped, as these major hoaxes, which occurred as recently as 2017 and as long ago as 1726, prove. Some were meticulously planned in hopes of striking it rich. A few were accidental consequences of otherwise harmless actions. Many were perpetrated to be funny or malicious, and still others were done to prove a point. No matter the reason, here are 11 hoaxes that hoodwinked the world. For some more recent scams, here are some of the most outlandish things the Internet told us that just weren’t true.
War of the Worlds
Orson Welles didn’t mean to mastermind one of the greatest hoaxes in history. Mass hysteria was simply a by-product of a high-quality radio play in an era where world war loomed, the space race was in its early stages, and most people got news and entertainment from their receivers. According to History.com, the October 30, 1938, broadcast began at 8pm with an introduction presenting the Mercury Theatre’s update of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novel The War of the Worlds, but unfortunately, many people were listening to a popular ventriloquist on another station until 8.12 and therefore missed the disclaimer. Welles take on Wells’ Martian invasion tale started with a weather report and a concert live from the Hotel Park Plaza before news alerts about explosions on Mars, a meteor crashing into a New Jersey farm, and eventually aliens with tentacles, heat rays, and poisonous gas broke in. Terrified announcers were then saying cylinders had landed in Chicago and St. Louis, 7000 National Guardsmen had been wiped out, and that people were fleeing.
Only the panic part turned out to be real as potentially a million listeners thought Earth was under attack. People crowded the highways, armed themselves, begged police for gas masks, requested their power be shut off so the aliens wouldn’t see them, and were treated for shock at hospitals. A woman ran into an Indianapolis church during evening service to proclaim, “New York has been destroyed. It’s the end of the world. Prepare to die!” When CBS got wind of hysteria IRL, Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was fiction. The FCC investigation found no wrongdoing but networks agreed to be more cautious regarding programming going forward. The attention scored Welles a Hollywood contract, which enabled him to write, direct, and star in his 1941 masterpiece Citizen Kane.
The Shed at Dulwich
For just six short months in 2017, The Shed at Dulwich, where patrons ordered entrees by mood, became the highest-ranked restaurant in London on TripAdvisor and the hardest reservation in town to get. Calls and emails poured in begging to be squeezed in for birthday dinners, romantic dates, and media coverage. All were ignored or told to call back as they were booked solid for more than half a year. Except that was a lie. The reason they couldn’t score a table was actually because the business was bogus. It was an experiment in algorithm manipulation and buzz creation by freelance writer Oobah Butler, who had been paid in the past by owners to review their restaurants positively without ever stepping foot inside on the site. To turn the South London garden shed he resides in into a fake fine dining experience, he bought a burner phone and a domain, created a website with soft-focus pictures of delicious-looking dishes made with ingredients you wouldn’t want to eat (paint, bleach tablets, shaving cream, the heel of his foot), and drummed up interest by providing minimum details, making it an appointment-only establishment, lying about it being full, and soliciting friends to write glowing reviews. According to The Washington Post, people contacted him looking for work and companies sent him free samples of their food products. He opened The Shed for one night and served canned soup—and some diners still asked to come again. Butler outed himself in an article and video for Vice a month after hitting the top spot and TripAdvisor removed the listing.