The headlines were all variations of the same theme: "Study proves IE users are dumber". It took about a week for the truth to come out -- that those of us who believed it were the dummies.
We're not certain which was the very first media outlet to pick up the story and run with it, but one of the first must have been Business Insider, which reported on the fraudulent study on Thursday, July 28th. Whatever the case, the story quickly went viral.
"AptiQuant offered free online IQ tests to over a 100,000 people and then plotted the average IQ scores based on the browser on which the test was taken," reads the original post. "Internet Explorer users scored lower than average on the IQ tests. Chrome, Firefox and Safari users had just a teeny bit higher than average IQ scores. And users of Camino, Opera and IE with Chrome Frame had exceptionally higher IQ levels."
The original post was followed up a day later with "AptiQuant Threatened With A Lawsuit By Loyal Internet Explorer Users," in which the fictitious CEO of the fictitious AptiQuant expresses his willingness to defend his findings in court.
By Tuesday (or Wednesday) of the following week, the hoax was exposed. The mastermind behind the whole story was Tarandeep Gill, a Vancouver-based programmer and entrepreneur. Once the real truth came out, Gill was more than happy to come clean and explain the motivation in a post entitled "How the hoax started and propagated."
"There was no intention to insult anyone," Gill wrote. "I regret the use of word 'dumb' in my press release, but it was kind of important to get media attention. This was not a cheap publicity stunt, but an honest effort to create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE versions 6.0 to 8.0."
However, just to rub it in a little, Gill also posted "Tell-Tale signs that should have uncovered the hoax in less than 5 minutes!" which included such indicators as "The domain was registered on July 14th 2011" and "The address listed on the report does not exist." Especially frank was Gill's admission that "I am sure, my haphazardly put together report had more than one grammatical mistakes" -- but honestly, anyone familiar with the quality of most online writing could hardly consider this a dead giveaway.
One may suspect after reading the explanation that Gill was interested in getting some attention for his comparison shopping startup, but to give Gill credit, he doesn't do more than mention his company once or twice. Instead, he traces the genesis of the hoax to Dr. Richard Dawkins' well-known theory of Memetics, and his own desire to get people to stop using IE 6.0 -- but another important result may be that online news sources may become somewhat more likely check facts. Maybe.
James Lee Phillips is a Senior Writer & Research Analyst for IBG.com. With offices in Dallas, Las Vegas, and New York, & London, IBG is quickly becoming the leading expert in Internet Marketing, Local Search, SEO, Website Development and Reputation Management. More information can be found at www.ibg.com. Waffles of the Barrett Group offers executives unique and effective executive career search and career management services. Their fee-based boutique consultancy executive firm works for you, leading the way in executive career search and delivering proven results time after time.