On the Internet, every day is April Fools' Day. But lately it's getting much harder to separate the fake from the real.
Example du jour: Did you hear about the new screw Apple engineered that makes it impossible to disassemble its devices? No more modding, no reverse engineering, only authorized Apple techs have the secret tool that unlocks the iScrew.
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Pretty typical, right? The InterWebs was abuzz with news and diagrams of Apple's latest example of geeky arrogance. The only problem with this story: It isn't true. It was a deliberate hoax, cooked up by a handful of Swedish tricksters at the design blog Day 4, just to mess with the rest of us. Per Day 4's Lukasz Lindell:
One afternoon we sketched out a screw in our 3D program, a very strange screw where the head was neither a star, tracks, pentalobe or whatever, but a unique form, also very impractical. We rendered the image, put it in an email, sent it to ourselves, took a picture of the screen with the mail and anonymously uploaded the image to the forum Reddit with the text "A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws."
Who took the bait? Just about every online news source that slavishly follows all things Apple -- which is to say just about every online news source. Apple blog Cult of Mac was first out of the chute, though it also added this disclaimer, of sorts, in paragraph five:
Keep in mind that this is an image posted to Reddit, and the only say-so we have that it comes from Apple is what the original poster has said. Also keep in mind that Apple often works on designs that never see the light of the day, and this new asymmetric screw could end up never being put into production.
Yahoo, Wired, and Macworld UK followed suit, along with a raft of blogs. Apple has released custom screws in the past, so the idea wasn't entirely implausible. But rather than wait and try to confirm the story, these sites ran with what they had (a photo posted to Reddit) and hoped to back it up later. Because if they didn't, they knew their competitors would; if the screw actually existed, they would have missed out on the story.
Once the story got to Twitter and Facebook, Lindell notes, all doubt disappeared: Apple really was trying to (ahem) screw over its customers.
This is hardly an isolated example. Late last month, an op-ed appeared in the online version of the New York Times, written by former editor Bill Keller, that expressed a grudging yet articulate defense of WikiLeaks.
The problem? Yes, that's right: Keller never wrote it. A day after the column appeared, WikiLeaks took credit for the fake.