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A Big Joke on April Fools Day

The first of April is traditionally a day for practical jokes and this year a 14-year-old boy played his idea of a big joke on Hong Kong people. The boy set up a web page very similar to that of the Ming Pao newspaper, with the top story being that Hong Kong was about to be declared an infected port. He registered a domain name ( that, at a quick glance, looks similar to the real domain name for Ming Pao ( He then started rumours, including a link to his false site. The rumour spread rapidly through telephones, email and ICQ. As a result, some people panicked: supermarket shelves were emptied and the Hang Seng Index plunging about 100 points.

This is not a new technique, another well-publicised case occurred in May 2002 when a fake BBC World website announced the death of Microsoft's CEO, Bill Gates. It is difficult for site owners to defend against such hoaxes, because any website can be copied. Detection relies on users being observant and knowing about host names and directory paths. However, in most cases just trying a few links on the page reveals the hoax because hoaxers rarely clone more than the first page.

The fake site probably infringed trademark rights, although "fair use" might be invoked to defend a parody, this was a clear attempt to deceive. There are no easy solutions to this type of hoax, users need to be educated, and at least one person needs their sense of humour checked.