F for Fake

It is time once again to recap the fakery, hoaxes, and all-around trickery online over the past year. It seems like we have had an exceptionally busy one. Thanks to social networking sites, user-generated content, and increasing use of online by everyone over eight years old, we have plenty to write about this time around.

To start the creative juices flowing, I caught “The Hoax,” the Richard Gere movie about Clifford Irving, one of the all-time great fakers (he faked a biography of Howard Hughes and sold it for millions of dollars, eventually winding up in jail). I couldn’t help thinking as I was watching this movie (which of course plays very loosely with real events) how much easier Irving would have had it in the online era of today. Back in the 1970s, he had to get on planes and mail forged handwritten letters with real postmarks and such to disguise the fact that he never actually talked to Hughes. Today he could do the same thing in about ten minutes with a blog.

So the biggest news the past couple of weeks has been the Myspace teen suicide backlash taking place about 40 miles away here in Missouri. The suburban community passed a law making it a misdemeanor to harass someone online. Almost immediately we have a fake blog that purports to be the writings of the Drew family gathering hundreds of comments and fueling the vigilante fires even further. The story, for those of you that have been not online, is about a teenage girl named Megan Meier who killed herself last year over a series of fake Myspace postings from a boy that were actually written by Lori Drew and her older teenaged employee. Drew was a neighbor of Meier, and ironically the harassment law that was recently passed to punish her Myspace postings could be used to benefit her and punish her own blogging impostor. (You might need to re-read the above graf, I know it is a bit confusing.)

While this was happening, a friend of mine was telling me about how he was posing online as a woman, trying to ensnare a former employee of his who faked some reports and was never caught. Luckily, he doesn’t live in any community that has any online harassment laws. Sadly, he thinks this is all le mot juste and his own version of online justice.

Back to the blogosphere, earlier this year we have Dan Lyons (with whom I once worked when we were both at PC Week back in the 1980s) outed for being the author of the “Fake Steve Jobs” blog and ensuing book tour. I hope some day I can aspire to be the author of a fake blog that will boost the sales of one of my books. (We assume that the royalty payments go to Lyons and not Jobs, but I haven’t checked.) In the meantime, I will have to settle for being the real author of real blogs.

Lyons isn’t alone, here is a list of several others.

Meanwhile, Steve Colbert’s fake presidential bid is dead in the water as a result of his show being in reruns because of the writer’s strike. The main point of contention of the strikers is how writers are paid for online works, which are supposed to be over real bylnes. Are you still with me?

And let’s now forget earlier this summer with John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, who posted to Yahoo’s financial Web sites using an alias.  Mackey was outed in an FTC document, and it turns out he was writing these posts over eight years. Eight years! No mea culpa, either.

Here’s hoping that you all have a really great holiday season, surrounded by the actual people that you know and love and care about, and that you can step away from the computer for a few minutes too.

N.B. For those of you too young to remember Irving contemporaneously, he also wrote a book about Elmyr de Hory, a noted art forger. Orson Wells did the movie version, which is where we get the title of today’s post. Irving continues to sell copies of the “autobiography” from his Web site.

3 thoughts on “F for Fake

  1. “I’m assuming this is from the David Strom I know but maybe not,” starts out rather amusingly from Bob Frankston, a long-time industry veteran who was one of the developers of Visicalc before working at Microsoft and now as an independent analyst.

    “This goes to a key point of my attempting to reinvent the Internet from the edge and my efforts at a workshop that I attended last week. We tend to assume that we can trust ‘www.JohnSmith.com’ to be the one true John Smith. Not only is that not at all true but the concept is actually far more ambiguous than the “body” people think – those who see biometrics as the answer. They miss the concepts of agency and delegation. As in the Hughes example – just because I snatched a lock of his hair doesn’t mean I have the authority to represent him – though a lock of hair is a major ingredient in stealing his soul. Conversely just because John Smith wrote the book doesn’t mean it isn’t a genuine John Clancy Inc novel. Or an “as told to” book, either.

    In fact, the more we are certain the more we are open to confidence games (cons). This is the basis for the “Nigeria” scams – all the information they provide is accurate but for a glitch down the line. Once you are foolish enough to verify you’re in too deep.

    This is why I’m focusing on separating the mechanism from the social judgment. The simple idea is that I can use capability keys (long numbers) without intrinsic semantics and then let you use the mechanisms you choose to decide what they mean. One crucial requirement is the need to be able to say “oops” or “maybe”.

    I don’t have the answers yet but the first step is to recognize that I am not fighting against a system that works – it’s just the opposite. We have a system that inspires false confidence. That’s OK as long as we understand the risks. Perhaps we’ll have a generation that is comfortable dealing with this world eventually.

    Maybe we already do – I can’t help (as a former New Yorker) that Southern hospitality is about just such a distinction between the illusion and reality. Everyone is sickeningly nice – so you learn to discount the façade. Maybe that’s also true for the Japanese who spell “NO” y-e-s.

    Where is George Lakoff when we need him? Yeah, I know, Berkeley. This isn’t his central issue but it does reflect the presumption of hierarchical authority that he cites in “Moral Politics”. It’s just too comforting to think that some authority or regulator knows best. Just like Daddy used to …

  2. Pingback: The Anti-Advertising Agency » Fake CEO Blogs

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