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How A Hoaxer Used Information Cascades to Fake Macaulay Caulkin’s Death – And Used Advertising Slots to Profit From It

This past Friday, the death of well-known actor Macaulay Caulkin began to go viral all over the Internet, following an article that appeared online claiming he was found in his New York City apartment on Thursday. The article was extremely well-crafted and seemed legitimate at first glance, especially since its format seemed similar to that of an MSNBC article, and people took to their social media platforms to lament the death of an actor whom they had grown up watching; in fact, as of Saturday the article had been shared on Facebook over 700,000 times. The problem, however, was that Caulkin had not actually died, and that a hoaxer had crafted the article in order to make a profit for himself through advertisements.

This article (the one linked below, not the hoax one) was of particular interest to me because it related two major topics we’ve recently covered: information cascades and advertisement slot markets. One can see that the spread of the fake article and the number of people who believed it was real caused an extremely large information cascade; by the time people began to see the faults in the article, the story had become so viral that several thousand people became under the impression that Caulkin’s death was real, even if their instinct had been telling them that the original story seemed unreliable. This proved to work out well for the hoaxer, who took advantage of the advertisement slot market and had sold several slots on the article page, earning small amounts of money every time somebody clicked on an ad; as the story became more viral, the click through rates on the ads skyrocketed and he began to make very large profits. Moreover, although the story ended up being fake, this hoax shows how people can exploit others’ networking abilities in order to achieve gains for themselves.


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