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Anatomy of a Twitter hoax: What did we learn?

What's the lesson behind the recent Internet hoax that had a blog reporting (Onion-style) that a nonexistent Harvard economist was blaming Twitter for the poor economy? That an Internet hoax is more than just a cheap stunt; it's a way to draw attention to the perpetrator of the hoax, not to mention coveted Web traffic to his site via forwarding links and favorable search engine placement.

Gaebler Ventures, the Chicago firm that created the bogus March 19 blog post (about alleged findings by faux Harvard Business School Professor Martin Schmeldon), has certainly proved its point. By the time Gaebler's chairman and CEO Ken Gaebler, confessed to the prank two days later, he said his original blog had been "retweeted over 600 times" and that his company's site was flooded with traffic.

The initial blog, complete with a fictitious chart showing the Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbling as the number of Twitter.com unique visitors rose, elicited 55 responses the first day it was posted, with comments ranging from admonitions of the fictitious Professor Schmeldon's assertions to confessions that Twitter had, in fact, affected one respondent's work productivity to the recognition by another that this must be "April Fool's joke, two weeks early."

Gaebler, not so ironically, turned to Twitter to promote his chicanery, enlisting the help of prolific tweeter Guy Kawasaki, whom Gaebler called the "Lou Ferrigno of Twitter." Kawasaki, a managing director of Palo Alto, Calif., firm Garage Technology Ventures, gave a keynote address at the Search Engines Strategies conference held in New York City this week. His somewhat obvious advice to fellow tweeters: "Automatically follow everyone who follows you on Twitter," monitor "what people are saying about you," and "be willing to take the heat if you use Twitter as a [marketing] tool," Businessknowhow.com reports.

Making sure he didn't miss a single PR opportunity, Gaebler, in his blog confessing the hoax, also offered advice for pulling off such a successful prank. Among his helpful hints: "After you get the buzz from the hoax, write an article like this about how to launch an effective Internet hoax. Then, shamelessly promote your article." Mission accomplished.

In the U.K., it seems that people can't learn his lessons early enough in life. The Telegraph reports that the U.K.'s Department for Children, Schools and Families is planning to give technology as much prominence as "literacy and numeracy." As a result, children will be required to be familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter before moving on to secondary school.

Image ©iStockphoto.com/ Johanna Goodyear

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