I outlined in an article yesterday why I believe the recent ‘online poison’ article in the Guardian is an excellent hoax parody.
The more often I read it, the more convinced I am that it is a hoax. But my reason is because of its content: it is ridiculously funny, incoherent and inconsistent, and it covers all of the right angles relevant to the issue to match the formula of an excellent hoax.
My reason for believing it is a hoax is not simply because the online prankster Godfrey Elfwick has claimed that he wrote it. As always, I am open to new evidence to rationally challenge any of my beliefs.
I’ve always enjoyed the Godfrey Elfwick pranks, whoever is using the pseudonym at any given time. But the evidence that he has provided that he wrote this is far from conclusive. It is just as consistent with the Godfrey ethos that he is happily trolling the rest of us, by opportunistically claiming responsibility for a hoax that somebody else perpetrated.
This matters, because we need to remain skeptical about claims made without reasonable evidence, regardless of where they come from and regardless of what arguments they are supporting. And it is significant because Godfrey’s initial claim to have written it was liked 4,600 times, shared 2,600 times and replied to over 600 times.
So let’s look at the evidence that Godfrey has provided, together with similar evidence that the hoax was perpetrated by Andy Kaufman, perhaps the greatest prankster in living memory.
A photograph of a printout of part of the article
When Godfrey repeated his claim to have written the Guardian article, Twitter user Benpool challenged him to prove it.
Here is what Godfrey uploaded as evidence that he wrote it.
Here is similar evidence that Andy Kaufman wrote it.
A screenshot of a set of dated computer files
Twitter user Pier Bove then challenged Godfrey to provide time-stamped evidence.
Here is what Godfrey uploaded: a directory titled ‘Godfrey’s Stuff,’ which suprisingly contains only seven items in the last ten months.
Here is a similar upload from Andy Kaufman’s computer, titled ‘Andy’s Stuff,’ with similar files from the same dates.
Arguments for and against Godfrey and Andy
The strongest argument for either is that they are both capable of writing such a masterpiece of parody, and of getting it published.
The strongest argument against Godfrey is that his time-stamped ‘evidence’ dates the file as being last modified on 31st October. That is a week before the US Presidential Election, the result of which is cited in the Guardian article.
The strongest argument against Andy Kaufman is that he is dead. Against that, some people believe that he faked his death as his ultimate hoax. And, who knows, some media outlets today might treat that claim as seriously as the Guardian did its ridiculous ‘online poison’ article.
I still believe the article in the Guardian is a hoax. I have outlined my reasons in my earlier article: the content is ridiculously funny, incoherent and inconsistent, and it fits the formula of an excellent hoax parody. Assuming that it is a hoax parody is also the most charitable interpretation. If it is genuine, then it reflects much more poorly on the author than if it is a hoax.
I am not basing my belief that it is a hoax on Godfrey Elfwick claiming that he wrote it, or on the possibility that Andy Kaufman may have faked his death. Skeptics should be as cautious about these claims as we are about the authenticity of the article. We should not believe anything without sufficient evidence, particularly when it is claimed by a self-proclaimed prankster.
As always, I am open to new evidence to rationally challenge my beliefs, whether that is provided by Godfrey Elfwick, Andy Kaufman or — ideally — the editorial team at the Guardian.