True or False Questions
Even college students at Research-1 institutions can have difficulty evaluating websites. For example, Holocaust denial sites sow confusion, particularly those with authoritative-sounding names like the Journal of Historical Review.
For years, I have used fake websites from the Museum of Hoaxes to see how well students can distinguish appearance from reality online, often using the criteria from librarian Susan Beck at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Sadly, the denizens of the academy can be remarkably gullible when it comes to websites, as I have argued, and those in the digital generation may still have surprisingly weak media literacy skills. As if these true and false distinctions weren't hard enough to make already, stealth advertising campaigns for products sometimes use mock sites to generate buzz. Many UCI students believed the Mutant Watch site was genuine when it was shown in class. (And my own teenager was taken in by another stealth marketing campaign with a fake site.)
So I was delighted, for the sake of the Virtualpolitik project, to discover that the Museum of Hoaxes now has a designated political section, which archives many of the best Internet political hoaxes of the past decade. These hoaxes include the widely disseminated Republican IQ hoax and my personal favorite the bogus Libertarian Girl blog in which a frustrated male writer found celebrity by impersonating an attractive young woman using nothing more than a photo grabbed from a Russian mail-order bride catalogue.
The Museum also includes parody products, such as Baby Bush Toys, and genuine products that seem too weird to be true, such as W Ketchup. As the Museum of Hoaxes has pointed out, in a comment on the hyperreal character of such sites, when there is a consumer angle and a real economy of tangible products, it can be hard to simply label these URLs as patently false fronts. For example, many real parody products are sold from this hoax Whitehouse website. (Check out their kid's page too!) Thus the FAQ may be bogus while the online store may be real.