Hoax Web Sites

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After briefly discussing web site evaluation, I showed a class of first-year psychology students the Havidol site and asked them what they thought of it. This site is a very slick-looking promotion for a drug for the treatment of Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder (DSACDAD) that provides a "greatly improved sense of well-being and the ability to enjoy the challenges of our high-paced culture."

None of the students really understood that this site is a hoax, although one students suggested it was a "scam" designed to take your money. The Havidol site does offer T-shirts and other items for sale, but clicking these items takes you to the web page of the artist who designed Havidol, so the site doesn't really take your money.

I then encouraged the students to go into ProQuest and do a search for Havidol, which brings up several articles describing the site and the artist who created it as a way to poke fun at the pharmaceutical industry. I hope that this exercise reinforced the notion of verifying information that seems questionable by checking other sources.

I also showed the students malepregnancy.com, a hoax site also created by an artist that many librarians have been using for years as part of web evaluation instruction. This site is so professional and convincing that you almost believe it, at the same time that you know it's impossible.

Both these sites are colorful, entertaining, and more than a little weird. Looking at the sites seemed to engage the students somewhat after a long hour or so of me talking about database searching and the other usual important but rather dry elements of library instruction. I'm not sure the students completely understood my purpose in showing them these sites, but I hope they at least came away with the idea that things, particularly things on the web, are not always what they seem to be.

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      I am a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State University Libraries in Library Learning Services and Education and Behavioral Sciences.       

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