How Rumours Spread Online

By Molly Oswaks on at

We at Giz do our very best to weed out the fakes and hoaxes from the real deal. Most of the time, we're right, and we can pat ourselves on the shoulder and move onward. But what about the story of the hoax itself?

Last week, an image was floated around of what someone on Reddit was calling a proprietary Apple screw. In fact, it was a picture of an email from a so-called Apple dev:

How Rumors Spread Online

"Hi [REDACTED]: So this is the latest render from the [REDACTED] that we are working on, it's totally asymmetric and no known tools are developed for it yet. Have a look. Kind redgards, [REDACTED]"

Sometimes these floating rumours aren't entirely ridiculous and may be worth hedging, which is why we always at least consider them. Here's a transcript from our internal chat programme, last week:

J.D. L. Dunno how reliable this is. From reddit. Rumor of Apple working on an asymmetrical style of screw to lock out DIYers.…

Barrett yeah saw that, fake enough to pass

J.D. L. ok

Michael H. wasnt that a thing before the last iphone launch too?

Barrett apple's screws are already basically proprietary

Andrew L. haha, that email is so fake

Sam B. yeah

Barrett but this is just so fake

Sam B. "asymmetric screw dev"

cool email account!

or subject line

or whatever that fake is supposed to be

Joe sam have some more berocca

As it turns out, the asymmetrical screw was part of an intentional hoax experiment devised by Swedish design company Day4 in order to better understand the birth of an Apple rumour.

One afternoon we sketched out a screw in our 3D program, a very strange screw where the head was neither a star, tracks, pentalobe or whatever, but a unique form, also very impractical. We rendered the image, put it in an email, sent it to ourselves, took a picture of the screen with the mail and anonymously uploaded the image to the forum Reddit with the text "A friend took a photo a while ago at that fruit company, they are obviously even creating their own screws ".

Then we waited …

How Rumors Spread Online

As one might imagine, with each step further from the original source (in this case, Reddit) the screw rumour gained more credibility—or, at least, it was questioned less and reported as possible fact more, with many tech blogs biting or hedging despite all evidence to the contrary—or not enough evidence to support it. (The thing is, not reporting something can sometimes seems almost as bad as reporting something that turns out to be a hoax. It's understandable: you just don't want to be the one who lets a story slip by.)

Not radically shocking, as far as rumour-mill logic tends to go. But it is interesting to parse out the exact evolution of this particular hoax, given than it was intended for such parsing all along. [Y!Tech]