Posted by: David Harley | December 5, 2011

Muriel* in the Men’s Room?

Don’t panic. I haven’t been infected by some obscure blogworm.

This is a hoax – well, semi-hoax – but not a particularly serious one for the world in general (except maybe for the companies whose work has been misattributed: I’ll come back to that in a minute).

I received a message this morning containing a mildly amusing photograph of a mural put up behind six urinals in a men’s room. According to the message, it was designed by an all-female design team for an office in New York City. Here’s a description (from 2005) from Hotel Industry News (what can I say, I just have very broad tastes in music and reading material!) of the “six-metre long backdrop of life-size photographs featuring local models in varying poses directly behind each of the six stands – each with a full view of the action. One has a tape measure out, one a pair of binoculars, another has a camera, a fourth is peering over her glasses and so the list goes on.” If you don’t find that type of humour offensive, you can find a picture at either of the links above. However, both pieces also make it perfectly clear that the description in the message is an almost complete fabrication.

  • The restroom is actually in a hotel in Queenstown, New Zealand.
  • The company behind it was Perron Developments in Auckland, not anyone called Edge Designs, as stated in the message.
  • However, according to the photographer, “We had a lot of fun with the shoot, made all the better for the fact that there weren’t any men there when we did it.” Maybe that’s what suggested the misattribution to an all-female agency?

According to Hoax Slayer, the original message simply read, with perfect accuracy, “Check out the new men’s loo at the Sofitel in Queenstown NZ!” (Oddly enough, Snopes confirms the “real” message but not the semi-hoax.)

What do we learn from this?

  • You can’t trust everything you read on the Internet. (Well, duh…)
  • Not all hoaxes are blatant chain letters. Lots of humorous stuff is passed on just because it’s humorous, not because the originator thought up some argument to persuade recipients to keep it going. And there’s nothing wrong with: if you don’t want your friends to forward amusing stuff to you, you can always ask them nicely not to. One friend of mine has a “jokes” list of friends to whom he sends humorous material, knowing that they’re people who are likely to find it amusing if not useful…
  • Many hoaxes have a kernel of fact among the fluff (I call these semi-hoaxes). Sometimes the content is changed to make a chain letter more dramatic and persuasive. It’s not obvious what the motivation was here, though Perron’s Peter Dallimore seems to assume in a comment here that it was a case of a company taking credit for someone else’s work. On the other hand, it might actually be intended to damage one of the real companies called Edge Design by making it look as if they’d been guilty of blatant plagiarism. Unfortunately, we can’t often trace the originator of a hoax or semi-hoax, so we may never find out.
  • Mostly, a semi-hoax, like other kinds of half-truth, is more persuasive than a downright lie. As many hoaxers and scammers know very well.

Hat tip to Jude for passing on the message, which I hadn’t seen before. You’ll have to excuse me now, I need to take a comfort break.

*I’m sorry if the punning on the malapropism of Muriel for Mural is lost on anyone but Brits of a certain age. If the words “Hilda Ogden” and “Coronation Street” mean nothing to you and you want to know what I’m gibbering about, this article should clear it up. If you don’t care at all about, feel free to Can the Cans

David Harley CITP FBCS CISSP
Small Blue-Green World/AVIEN
ESET Senior Research Fellow

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