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Anatomy of a Hoax (Sony Nexus phone) (anatomyofahoax.tumblr.com)
451 points by Shooti on Oct 19, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

I learned about the Anatomy of a Hoax the hard way.

When I was younger I tried to play a trick on my friends by making them think Google had hired me as their youngest employee. Turns out I not only tricked my friends but half of the tech news/blogosphere, despite my press release being full of spelling and grammar errors.

I learned a lot that week about the internet, the media, and my parents...

Context: http://news.cnet.com/GoogleNewsdumpspartnerafterprankitemapp...

So, now that you've graduated college, did you apply to Google? Did you get the job?

I never graduated, so I probably won't ever apply to Google.

That's unfortunately true - Google seems pretty snobbish with regards to education, just one of their ways of focusing on not getting any false positives in hiring.

That certainly means they miss out on a lot of awesome programmers though - I work with absolutely stellar people who are college drop-outs, and have fired people with good degrees who did not perform.

At least Google's policy gives start-ups more room to find amazing people.

I did not have a degree when Google hired me as an engineer; the engineer who referred me was also a drop-out; my manager, now a VP, also dropped out of college; and I have a co-worker who dropped out of high school.

It's not the normal path, and you need to fill that blank in your resume with interesting personal projects and work, but Google is perfectly willing to hire designers and engineers without degrees. We do it all the time.

Anecdote time:

I graduated college with a CS degree. My college CS friend did not. I am not a professional programmer today. My friend is Hampton Catlin, the inventor of Haml and Sass.

Over-generalized moral of the story:

People who have the patience to get a degree, aren't impatient enough to invent web changing technologies like Haml and Sass.

> People who have the patience to get a degree, aren't impatient enough to invent web changing technologies like Haml and Sass.

Over-generalized, indeed: http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/

Funny story. But I am somewhat surprised that there is actually somebody out there who is reading these free PR distributors.

I am somewhat surprised that there is actually somebody out there who is reading these free PR distributors

Hacker News has submissions from press-release aggregation services all the time. (I'm thinking of PhysOrg and ScienceDaily, among quite a few others.) Many of those submissions reach the front page. Knowing how to write a gee-whiz press release about yourself is a skill that appears to go a long way in the tech community.


Comments about PhysOrg:


"Yes Physorg definitely has some of the worst articles on the internet."


"Straight from the European Space Agency, cutting out the physorg blogspam:

http://www.spacetelescope.org/news/heic1116/ (press release),

http://www.spacetelescope.org/videos/heic1116a/ (video),

http://www.spacetelescope.org/static/archives/releases/scien... (paper).

"PhysOrg: just say no."


"The physorg article summary is wrong, I think."


"Phys.org is vacuous and often flat wrong."

Comments about ScienceDaily:



"Original article (to which ScienceDaily has added precisely nothing):


"Underlying paper in Science (paywalled):


"Brief writeup from Nature discussing this paper and a couple of others on similar topics:



"Everything I've ever seen on HN -- I don't know about Reddit -- from ScienceDaily has been a cut-and-paste copy of something else available from nearer the original source. In some cases ScienceDaily's copy is distinctly worse than the original because it lacks relevant links, enlightening pictures, etc.

" . . . . if you find something there and feel like sharing it, it's pretty much always best to take ten seconds to find the original source and submit that instead of ScienceDaily."

Comments about both PhysOrg and ScienceDaily:


"Why hasn't sciencedaily.com or physorg been banned from HN yet?"


"Original source:


"What ScienceDaily has added to this: (1) They've removed one of the figures. (2) They've removed links to the Hinode and SOHO websites. (3) They've added lots of largely irrelevant links of their own, all of course to their own site(s).

"Please, everyone: stop linking to ScienceDaily and PhysOrg."


"Those sources don't have RSS feeds, and ScienceDaily and PhysOrg have a bad habit of not linking to such things."


"Added value in PhysOrg article: zero.

"Please, everyone, stop submitting links from PhysOrg and ScienceDaily. I have never ever ever seen anything on those sites that isn't either (1) bullshit or (2) a recycled press release with zero (or often negative) added value. (Sometimes it's both at once.) It only takes ten seconds' googling to find the original source."

Google News was aggregating the PR site, so lot's of people would have seen the story that way. Why they were doing that is another question.

You should go as Larry again for halloween. teehee.

haha, I've still got the costume..

My favorite part:

' I, an individual with no previous worldwide recognition save for a frontpage Reddit post, managed to alter the behavior of people in Russia, Japan, Uzbekistan, and Italy within the course of 24 hours, all from the comfort of my home while exerting next to no effort.'

'The internet is still in its infancy. The mobile space is a goddamn zygote. Stand tall, Mr. Dev and Mrs. Entrepreneur; don’t be discouraged. I get it, you’re burnt out, but there’s so much more we can do in this space. We can all make our marks, make some money, and change peoples’ lives.'

"Let’s say it takes an extremely unscientific average of 15 minutes to research, write, edit, and publish this kind of article; that’s 15,000 minutes or 250 hours of human capital that I mobilized by sitting here and moving my hands a bit on a Sunday evening."

This quote sums up why the tech news business can be such a miserable grind for writers (people burn out all the time), and why online news will never make the kind of money that print did. The fact that the tech news scene can afford to throw ~250 man-hours (though it was way more if you count the time spent prepping & promoting the posts, not just writing) at a trivial hoax like this is indicative of three things:

1. The barrier to entry for all of this is pretty low. If you can type and you have some hustle, then you, too, can help fill the internet with ~300-word stories about the latest (fake) phone. And because the barrier to entry is so low... 2. ...Talent is relatively cheap, so sites can afford to pay writers and editors to chase nonsense like this. And because talent is so cheap.... 3. ...Talent is desperate, because the only way you advance in the business is to get your name at the top of the pageviews leaderboard again and again. So you'll literally cover anything if it will get hits.

All of the above leads to a massive glut of words and, ultimately, ad inventory in the tech news space. You don't have to have a Nobel Prize in econ to see what this miserable dynamic means for publishers' bottom lines.

Seriously, the real news in this hoax isn't the power of the Internet to "mobilize human capital" -- it's the power of the Internet to boost the supply of said capital to the point where it's just not worth anything close to what it used to be.

> "All of the above leads to a massive glut of words and, ultimately, ad inventory in the tech news space. You don't have to have a Nobel Prize in econ to see what this miserable dynamic means for publishers' bottom lines."

There's room for good websites with well-paid staff who are experts and they can make profit too. Rather than talk about an example from my company, a higher profile one: TechRadar. Their target audience is a little less tech-savvy than me, or most HN readers, but trust me when I say that their staff know what they're talking about - I obviously don't know them all, but I know a few from management down, and they're the bees knees. And they make money. There's plenty of other examples including sites that don't simplify for the audience quite so much.

What the current situation with online tech coverage has done isn't to make it impossible to succeed financially, it's just made it far easier to try and do it badly, and with so many more people trying, the percentage of those who succeed naturally drops. It's like if tomorrow anyone could buy an F1 race car - the average ability of drivers would drop way down, but it doesn't mean it's any harder to be a professional racer.

BTW, TechRadar also writed about it: http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobil... . Currently there are no update about hoax from them.

Problem is not only in quality of writing. Problem is that most of sites don't have other sources of news than other sites and can not afford to don't write about stories reported by competitors. There are same news on all of them from Engadget to Techradar. And when some story is reported with significant delay readers usually complain about it in comments.

Sorry, I was talking only in the context of the comment I was replying to, about the overall situation for tech writers and publishers. I didn't mean to imply that TechRadar, or any other site, can guarantee 100% accuracy when it comes to rumours - no form of press in any industry has ever been able to do that.

It's pretty incredible that you can create a render in 7 hours including making the model, and nobody noticed that it wasn't even a real phone. 3D Photo-realistic rending has come a long way.

Also taking a photo of your screen hides a lot of the telltale giveaways of a rendered image. But yeah, Blender's renderer is pretty amazing.

Sure, in the same way that a master carpenter can create a dresser in a day. It took him years to get to that level.

And with a free program

This goes to show that Blender really is a top of the line 3d modeling tool. I have used it in my games. It has a steep learning curve. But if you know how to use it, you can make really good models like this guy did. Its nice to know there is a full featured 3d modeling tool that is open source.

My favorite bits were putting in the reflection of his hand holding the phone to take the picture and then photographing his screen with the same phone to make the picture realistically _bad_ and create correct EXIF data.

There are quite a few telltales that it's a hoax (e.g. he fails to match the DOF of the photo), but they're far more obvious in hindsight. Kudos to Android Police for picking up queues such as the mismatched times -- I'm surprised, based on this discrepancy, they didn't call hoax rather than suggest is was a mockup or prototype.

The only difference between a hoax and a mockup/prototype is intent. I'd say they were giving someone the benefit of the doubt and playing it safe.

Hoax: welp, we erred on the side of caution.

Prototype: You saw it here first!

What's fascinating to me is that he ended the piece with a bunch of lolbertarian claptrap. Guy hoaxes a few tech news sites and all of the sudden he's Milton Friedman.

Agreed. "Massive effect on the outside world?" I hadn't even heard of this until I saw this post on HN. Tech journalists don't take the time to investigate these one-off stories because, honestly, there's not much to them. Post the picture and beef up a blurb about how it might be fake, then add some links to previous Nexus rumors. Done and done. This guy seems a little too happy with himself for something so insignificant.


longer version - I have no idea how your comment relates to the story I just read

Did you get to the "gradual seriousness" and "corn syrup" connection the author somehow made?


I created a 3d Model in 7.5 hrs and posted on Picasa. ~1 day later 500+ news articles, 90K web results. Did it for the lulz. btw, no one bothered to contact me to verify anything.

Tech journalism is officially as good as political journalism,

The little screenshot of someone trying to debunk it with error level analysis amused me. ELA is truly the dowsing rod of digital forensics. Yes, in some circumstances, an expert can probably spot certain kinds of fakes. If they do so according to rigorous and scientifically backed methods, you should even listen to them.

But what most people do is to look at the images, notice some bright graininess somewhere and then say "Aha! look at that area over where it's all bright and grainy... this is a fake!" In short, roughly 100% of the time, if tries to use ELA to support a hoax claim, they are full of shit.

Impressive skills, great hoax! I like that there was a message behind it as well, rather than just trolling the public.

Am I the only getting tired of people running hoaxes on purpose just to see how many people will bite on it?

The fact some of these get covered by major tech blogs only makes it harder for people to get legit news on stuff they care about.

Yes. Forcing journalists to fact-check stories is a good thing.

How is it forcing that?

Blogs get paid by the click, not the accuracy. If they can get you to click on the rumor, then click again on the correction, they are ahead 2 clicks that they wouldn't have had if they fact checked in the first place.

Blame the messengers for shoving rumors down your throat. Maybe even blame yourself for being interested in rumors. The hoaxers do not contact you individually, that part is done by others.

No, it helps, by clearly showing novices that Android Police is a reputable news site and the Gawker family is shite.

This is what makes the Nexus season exciting. Although a lot of people will probably be disappointed.

I think he should have toned down with the bump and specular maps. The nature of the "scuffiness" was what tipped me off immediately. Also the pogo pins just didn't look right. Could have done without those too.

"And finally, this whole affair served as yet another data point to validate what I already know. Human action cannot be predicted. People are not a series of inputs and outputs that a masterful technocrat can manipulate to any degree of accuracy."

I'd say this whole story supports an exactly opposite conclusion. People are predictable and easy to manipulate, and it was to be expected that various blogs and news sources would pick it up; they live on eyeballs anyway.

It's sad to see that:

- political news suck

- general news are usually full of shit

- science news are most often completely inaccurate

- tech news just proven itself again to be as reliable as the others I mentioned

Because, hell, it's all about clicks and eyeballs and ad impressions. I wonder why people still read this stuff if it is to be expected that most of news out there will be false.

"Blogs get paid by the click, not the accuracy. If they can get you to click on the rumor, then click again on the correction, they are ahead 2 clicks that they wouldn't have had if they fact checked in the first place." (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4676633)

Meh. So is there anything we can read to get some reliable information?

Great Blender skills, even if nothing else! Kudos!!

I missed how he got from the photo upload to being referenced. Did he trigger this by submitting a tip someplace or did someone run across the image on Picasa, and if so, how did they find it? His timeline seems to imply he took no action other than uploading the photo, but then there is that submission screenshot with no explanation. Where did he submit it?

He mentioned lower in the article that nobody could have noticed the image and nothing would have happened. Apparently someone actually did notice without him tipping anything off.

He must have at least titled or tagged it so it came up in a search

I missed the hoax and found out about it only through this post, but I can't lie, I want one of those. Even the Xperia TL, the phone that James Bond uses, looks plasticky and cheap in comparison to the mockup: http://www.sonymobile.com/us/products/phones/xperia-tl/

The supposedly leaked photos of the LG Nexus have it looking like an iPhone clone, albeit a very good one: http://bostinno.com/2012/10/19/lg-nexus-4-release-date-lg-ne...

To my eye, the "Nexus X" is one of the freshest designs in the phone space in recent memory.


Uh, the "core" of that problem is the senseless yuppies that read it.

You either have far too much free time on your hands or you're attempting to break into advertising. If anything you've exposed one of the dirty little secrets about the Web: essentially that people can quite easily be fooled and will routinely accept things they see and hear at face value without fact-checking or understanding if the information originates from a credible source.

Am I the only one who thinks this kind of stuff should be stopped? No doubt the OP is creative and has a great set of skills, but the fact he intentionally faked the information, to the extent of building a 3D model, took the rendered picture using his phone and put it on the web, really made me feel this has crossed the line.

I can accept mistakes made on good faith or a benign April Fool joke, but not this kind of deliberate lies and manipulations. It is a waste of everybody's time with no real value in the end.

Journalists indeed should check their reference sources, but it doesn't mean it is OK to deliberately faking news just to check if the journalists have done their job. Their time could be used in other much more productive ways. I am quite appalled to see people are implicitly encouraging this kind of behavior, little did they realize this is eroding the trust we have had in the tech community.

If we don't do something, more and more fake news will appear. I presume all of us love interesting and trustworthy news articles, no?

Bottom line: I recognize there are always fake news articles on Internet, my point is we should condemn and put a stop to this kind of deliberate hoax to prevent the further deteriorating of news quality.

At some point, news quality drops below a threshold and readers who value quality stop reading, at which point they find more reliable sources of news. Therefore, creating hoaxes encourages fact-checking due to the threat of reduced readership, if too many hoaxes are put forth as news.

We need more scrupulous journalists, not more scrupulous community members.

It's like you're blaming people who bribe cops for police corruption. What's needed is police who won't take bribes, not to have people stop attempting to bribe them.

More hoaxes, I say. Let's see how quickly web "journalists" can be pushed into doing some actual work.

He didn't send it to any news organizations. He didn't trick anyone about what it was. He just put the image in a semi-public gallery. What the heck do you want to stop? 3d rendering?

It was called out as a hoax pretty early, though, much earlier than other hoaxes we've seen online.

I'm not sure how I feel about the ethics of this. Did we learn anything we didn't already know? That most tech bloggers don't properly source their material. That once enough momentum is behind a story, more well-established outlets will run with it as well. I think most of us knew those things already.

It's kind of amazing that no one contacted the original image uploader, and that he didn't have to do any promotion of any kind.

It's worth noticing that he says he didn't email this to tech writers, he didn't tip anybody, all he did was put the picture on picasa. If he'd gone out and told people he had inside information about the next nexus, that'd be kind of mean, but i'm pretty sure there's nothing unethical about putting a render on picasa and just letting the internet go crazy speculating about it.

I wonder if there are people who continuously trawl the streams of Picasa, Flickr, imgur, and other photo sites.

They're probably just using Google Alerts. If he tagged the image "nexus" when he put it on Picasa it'd be indexed by Google very quickly (they run Picass) and hit Alerts e-mails soon after.

It reminded you to take the next rumor with a bucket of salt. And for some, to think twice before investing in a company, based on rumors.

It proves a point IMO and educates readers on how these rumors start and why they shouldn't be trusted.

I doubt his motivation was not "a fun exercise in 3D device modeling" and probably something more like a pump and dump scheme, considering SNE's record low. If you look at the timing of it, it's pretty suspect.

If it were a pump and dump scheme it would definitively a super sophisticated one.

Somebody learned something on Monday Oct 15th, take a look at the daily price chart from 10/15 - 10/19. It would be a brazen bit of mis-direction to pull this off with a mea culpa, though. But the markets have an echo-chamber-ish thought process, too (not co-incidentally). Something to think about.

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