Successful Hoaxes

Through the use of specific evidence such as dates, times, names, newspaper articles, and places, authors attempt to persuade readers that their hoaxes are non-fiction works. The tactic of using either common or uncommon names and other specifics often leads the audience to believe that the story would be harder to pull out of thin air, and is therefore more credible. For example, in the Joice Heth selection, it is stated that she was born in 1647 on the island of Madagascar. Also, the story uses familiar names such as George Washington and refers to his home in Virginia. By using these specifics, the reader feels familiar with the selection and therefore is more likely to believe that the story is true, not a hoax. Through the use of newspaper excerpts, professionally written articles that can be looked up in archives, it seems that there is no way the story can be falsified. It is easier to convince people that something exists than to prove that it does not. This is due to confirmation bias which is one’s tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s previous beliefs. In the Feejee Mermaid, there is one point where Barnum says that it is crazy that mer-people are seen so often. This is because if counter arguments seem obscure, then the hoaxes are more likely to be believed. Due to apparent sightings of mermaids, and the author stating that counter-evidence is absurd, he is twisting the audience’s mind to believe the message being portrayed and dismiss any counter-evidence to disprove his theory. Successful hoaxes are made by using compelling evidence and specific uses of familiarities to the audiences in order to convince the reader that believing anything aside from what the author conveys is absurd. Similarly, unsuccessful hoaxes are vague and lack evidence to convince the reader.

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