The internet is the information highway. Unfortunately, it also holds plenty of misinformation that gets spread to naive users. There are also just-for-fun hoaxes created with the intention of fooling gullible internet users. Sometimes, these practical jokes become bigger than expected. In 2001, manbeef.com made its mark as a hoax site that took inboxes by storm.
Offering the sale of human meat for consumption was a concept outrageous enough to catch people’s attention. The website went above and beyond to include features such as recipes and tips on preparing meals of human meat. The ridiculous idea made its way through the internet as a forwarded e-mail linking to the site, which quickly gained traffic of up to half a million visitors per day.
On the site’s about page, ManBeef claimed to be a company founded in 1982 with business in over 15 countries and three main locations in the United States. The company’s “founder” Joseph Christopherson was actually a made up person by site creators Chris Ellerby and Joseph Mallett.
One of the things that made the hoax believable was its disclaimer that the company did not allow the purchase of human meat through the website; it was only to be done offline as they “prefer[ed] to deal with [their] customers on a more personal basis”. This was elaborated on with a membership service which required those interested to go through background checks and be placed on a waiting list. Those who went all the way and signed up for a membership would soon find themselves not receiving any of the promised members-only benefits.
The only products that were actually available for purchase from the website were t-shirts, mugs, hats, and more which featured the logo. The company’s profits may not have come from human meat, but a quick buck was still made through their meatless merchandise.
It’s no question that the site had its skeptics at the time, but the efforts that went into the website and its sections were enough to convince disgusted viewers that ManBeef was a legitimate business catering to cannibals.
The site received so much notoriety and controversy that the FDA took matters into their own hands and launched an investigation of the company. This made for the final nail in the coffin of determining its authenticity after finding no evidence that human meat was being sold.
In June 2001, Ellerby and Mallett (under their combined pseudonym) admitted that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax.
In 2005 the manbeef.com domain was purchased by a pornography cybersquatter. The domain today is for sale for $10,000 USD.
In today’s internet, it’s common to see users fooled by satire websites, particularly news-based sites. In the early web, ManBeef paved the way for other satire pages and will go down in history as arguably one of the most-believed web hoaxes.
What’s your favourite internet hoax? Share your story in the comments.
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