Faxlore And The Rise Of Online Disinformation

By Francis Tunwase

Misinformation has always been a part of human civilization. And as soon as humans got the ability to send messages electronically, this trend shifted into overdrive. 

A perfect example of this is the “blood initiation” hoax that happened back in 1993. At the time, fax machines were the predominant means of communication. In Tennessee, fax machines started sending out weird documents warning about a “blood initiation” and gang killings that would essentially target random citizens. 

Source: Pittigrilli / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wiki Commons

The faxes seemed to come from official sources that were connected to the local police force. No one really cared about verifying the source, and the message was sinister enough to scare everyone. 

Soon enough, police lines became flooded with calls from concerned people. There was especially talk about “lights out” – an alleged rite where gang members drove at night with their lights off and targeted anyone who flashed lights at them. 

At the end of the day, it became obvious that the whole fuss was nothing to worry about. There was no evidence of killings or gang activity around the city or even anywhere else in the country at that. Still, the entire situation turned out to be a perfect example of “faxlore” – a phenomenon where people deliberately sent misinformation via fax. 

As early as the 1960s, fax machines have been available, making it much easier for people to send information across borders. Their speed and efficiency made it so that purveyors of false information found it even easier to share their fake stories and create a sense of panic. 

Source: Georgfotoart / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wiki Commons

By 1996, many believed that this trend would die down – after all, there was a new form of communication that was catching on in emails. But just as individuals and companies found it easier to send messages via email, so did these same fake news purveyors. 

Today, we’re seeing different forms of fake news – from those who believe in lizard people to stories of drug gummies being given to kids. It seems almost like we will never truly be able to eradicate this menace.