Have you ever seen something online that you knew was too crazy to be real? Internet hoaxes, one of the oldest forms of trolling, have become such a big problem on social media that sites like Facebook have recently taken specific action to limit the likelihood that fake news will spread (it’s in Facebook’s best interest to keep this kind of content away). Slava Balasanov and Analisa Teachworth‘s ironically titled digital studio 4REAL set out to create an interactive exploration of this epidemic: a website that gives users the power to make their own highly convincing hoax.
Clone Zone, as the website is called, isn’t the first tool that has been built for the purpose of creating realistic-looking copies of websites, but it’s probably the most user-friendly, and you can use any site you want. Balasanov and Teachworth designed the editor in a “What You See Is What You Get” style that enables editing of almost any element on any website’s page, and generates the edited content in a style that matches the page.
Playing around with Clone Zone, I changed the headline of this New York Times article on legal weed taxes in Colorado to read “Evil, Alien Purple Plants Slowly Devour Man.” I was able to publish the new version to the URL “http://www.nytimes.com.clonezone.link/purple_evil_plants” with only a few clicks, customizing whatever I wanted along the way. Other than the giveaway URL and the Clone Zone bar along the bottom, this silly prank looks exactly like the real thing. The clone is then sharable or embeddable. These slick editing tools make Clone Zone hyper-intuitive–you could say the web tool is democratizing hoaxes.
The artists, who are self-proclaimed hackers, say their project would ideally cause people to “question the status quo” and think harder about their information sources. To Facebook’s possible chagrin, clones prompt users to share their fake story on social media when it’s published. But Balasanov and Teachworth are not concerned about possible fallout of creating a tool for disseminating false information.”This is probably the most exciting part for us–the possibility of transforming the viewer’s sense of reality, even if for a short time,” they said. “Some uncomfortable situations will inevitably occur.”