Friday, October 19, 2012

Anatomy of a Hoax

Now here's a fascinating little post - some guy, who has apparently elected to remain nameless, did a model of a non-existent phone and uploaded the resulting generated pics to Picasa.  Then did nothing else at all.

Within a few days, over 500 articles were written and the pics were finally debunked.

As he says in conclusion (and I quote this much really only because I fear it might go away):
After the immediately observable stuff, I began thinking about these news articles as products of individual journalists. As of now, there are around 1,000 news articles on the “Sony Nexus X”. 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 doesn’t even take into account the number of non-journalists who devoted time to reading about, discussing, or debunking this story (most likely during work hours). Let me reiterate: 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. If you are nothing short of absolutely blown the fuck away by this, then the music died for you a long time ago.
So next time you want to talk about a tech bubble, Ms. Tech Writer, or decide to invest tens of millions in another “safe” hipster filter photo app, Mr. VC, stop and really think about the amazing things we take for granted. Casual acceptance of the products of human genius keeps us all thinking small. 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.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. This exercise was a shot in the dark. Those images could have remained undiscovered or passed off as fakes immediately. What if I refrained from uploading them at all? The over 250 hours of skilled labor that I diverted to the coverage of this “story” could have gone to more productive uses. Thousands of tech geeks the world over would have done something else with their time.
Many people have this unrealistic expectation that relatively small groups of intelligent people can and should use whatever tools they have at their disposal to manage the whole of society. The economy, which is essentially a word used to describe the various dynamics of human interactions, is too complex to model or simulate with the end-goal of producing actionable policy recommendations. This insignificant non-news event had a disproportionate effect on the outside world. Imagine what kind of terrible damage one can do by artificially diverting resources from one sector of the economy to another through legislative fiat? We all know what happened when corn became a subsidized crop: High fructose corn syrup supplanted cane sugar as the dominant sweetener. This was not by design, but simply an unpredictable result of artificially tampering with the economy. A committee of the brightest economic minds in the history of the world could never have predicted the Internet, Facebook, the rise of the mobile app ecosystem, or Bieber Fever. Yeah, all of this from a stupid hoax.

tl;dr - Gradual seriousness.


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