Last week, a rumor that Apple is working on an asymmetric screw that would effectively lock users out of their devices ran rampant across the internet. Today, Swedish design company Day4 admitted that the rumor was an elaborate hoax — an experiment designed to explore how misinformation spreads on the internet. Day4 staff mocked up the screw in a 3D design program, emailed it to themselves, photographed the email, posted it on Reddit, and waited for someone to pick the story up.
Various news sources reported on the rumor and readers took the discussion to social networks. As the story traveled, it was oft presented as fact, and likely misled a large number of readers. After explaining the reasoning behind the experiment, Day4 issued an apology (while still defending its methods):
"Finally, we just want to say sorry to you who feel cheated, but the meaning behind the experiment may provide longer-term results, that we might become more thoughtful about things we see on the internet."
With the rumor mill in full swing in anticipation of the next iPhone announcement, Day4's warning is an important one to keep in mind for readers and journalists alike.