Avoiding Hoax Web Sites
Derk, James, Editor & Publisher
James Derk is the computing editor of the Evansville Courier in Indiana.
Do Your Reporters Know How to Verify A Site's Owner?
During the 1996 Presidential election, a Bob Dole campaign site on the World Wide Web received more than 20 million "hits" by Internet browsers from all over the world.
They could read campaign materials, see photos of the candidate and read his platform easily by heading over to "www.dole96.org."
Trouble was, all of the content was made up.
Dole's official site was "www.dole96.com" -- he had nothing to do with the other one.
No one knows if anyone believed what they might have seen on the other site but it remains a shining example of the trouble of certifying and verifying information one finds on the Web. Because there are few rules about setting up "domain names" (unless they contain a trademark) there is a bustling business in domain registration and not all of them go to the people or companies you might think.
When the makers of the movie Evita went to make a Web site to promote the film, they found "www.evita.com" already taken by an entrepreneur hoping to resell it. The movie company opted for "www.evita-themovie.com" instead. Same thing with the blockbuster Titantic; Paramount had to settle for "www.titanicmovie.com" because "titanic.com" was already gone.
Within hours of the first reports of President Clinton's "intern trouble," the sites "monicalewinski.com", "monicalewinski.com" and nearly every other variant of the young woman's name were registered by "cyber-squatters" hoping to make some quick cash. The site "www.lewinsky.com" is for sale for "$1.5 million or best offer" according to its owner.
Journalism schools all over the world now are teaching students about the "Salinger Effect," that is, don't believe everything you read on the Internet just because it's there. Some information is presented in a very professional manner on the Web and it can take a while to recognize the joke.
For example, the slick site put up by "Dream Technologies International at "http"//www.db.net/dti/" will even take online orders for your human clone and offers testimonials, research papers and photos.
The problem of "domain spoofing," that is, getting an address very close to someone else's, is another troubling issue for journalists on a deadline. Some sites have been set up to capitalize on misspellings of heavily trafficked sites like "microsoft. …