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How to Use The Hoax Project

The Hoax Project is intended to teach students and journalists about how media hoaxes are perpetrated, and how to guard against becoming victims of hoaxes.

The project does not pretend that it can make journalists 100 percent hoax-proof. It aims to make them less vulnerable by helping them recognize when a story might be a hoax. The project does this by examining successful hoaxes to illustrate their common elements and to show how those elements exploit vulnerabilities inherent in the typical practice of journalism.

The project is built around case studies of hoaxes, which are categorized by type. Within each category is a short description of how that type of hoax is carried out; a summary of key factors for the success of such hoaxes and red flags that should alert journalists to the possibility of a hoax; and links to case studies. The Key factors are elements of the hoax that take advantage of journalistic vulnerabilities.

Each case study includes a short description of the hoax, published articles that turned out to be false and/or articles about the exposure of the hoax.

How Hoaxers Succeed

An introductory analysis for teachers and students, to be read before embarking on case studies.

Lesson Plan

After reading the above material, we suggest that the teachers assign students to:

    1. Read “How Hoaxes Succeed.”

    2. Read a case study – by assignment or students’ choice.

    3. Present a report based on Questions for Assignment. The teacher assigns one or more questions by number for each case study that the a student is assigned.

      A. Written report – Summarize a hoax and analyze how and why it succeeded and was exposed, focusing on the question numbers assigned. Discuss how the journalist could have realistically avoided the hoax or discovered it sooner, taking into account the context of the coverage, such as deadlines and coverage by other media outlets. Total length: One to two pages for each question.

      B. Oral presentation – A 5- to 10-minute presentation based on the written assignment above. Use this as the basis for a class discussion of the case. This can also be done as a group assignment, with each student handling one or more questions and aspects of the hoax.

      C. Class project – The entire class reads the same case study. The class then engages in:

        1. A class discussion led by the teacher, using Questions for Assignment as a guide.

        2. A class presentation, with groups of students analyzing the hoax by focusing on different Questions for Assignment.

Questions for Assignment

Interviewing hoax victims

If the teacher wants students to interview journalists whose work is featured in the case studies, we ask that you first contact Patrick Boyle to make arrangements. While such interviews would no doubt be valuable to students, in order for the Hoax Project to continue we need to be sure that journalists and news organizations that allow us to post their stories do not feel burdened by repeatedly getting calls to explain their biggest mistakes. We will try to make arrangements for the journalists to talk with students, and will keep track of which journalists have already been interviewed for this project.