Hoverboard hoax leaves fan stinging

Last updated 17:34 06/03/2014

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It was a new piece of "hoverboard technology" headed up by scientists at a supposed start-up company called HUVr that seemingly everyone wanted to believe was real.

The "launch" video posted on Wednesday and watched by close to six million people led many to believe a Back to the Future II hoverboard had finally become a reality.

It generated thousands of tweets and Facebook posts, and more than 700 YouTube video responses. A further 112,000 people "liked" HUVr on Facebook.

Promising "the following demonstrations are completely real" and featuring celebrity endorsements from the likes of musician Moby, actress Agnes Bruckner, pro skater Tony Hawk and Back To The Future actor Christopher Lloyd, the video had some people knowledgeable in physics wanting to throw their science out the window in the hope it was all true. It even used MIT's name to give credibility to the technology.

But it all began to unravel when eagle-eyed viewers noticed irregularities when slowing HUVr's launch video down, and when web sleuths began tracking down who exactly was behind the video and accompanying website.

As it turned out,  comedy site Funny or Die, headed up by actor Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's production company Gary Sanchez Productions, made fools of everyone. On Thursday, Funny or Die issued an apology video featuring actor Lloyd. Lloyd said he was "tricked", "hoodwinked" and "scammed".

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"You may be saying, 'Chris, what do you mean you were tricked? You were there, surely you saw the wires and cranes and effects people?'" he said.

"But then I say I was blinded my old beliefs. My brain must have erased the wires for me. Let's just leave it at that. They tricked me.

People began to lash out, with many profanity-ridden posts appearing on HUVr's Facebook page and other social media.

"Thank you for ruining my excitement over this," wrote Facebook user Edgar Moreno in one of the more subdued responses online. "Gutted," wrote Dave Robson.

Lloyd also used the apology to say that he hoped it might inspire someone "to get into hover sciences".

"Here's to hoverboards being real one day. Go do it. Make it happen - for all of us. God bless you."

Even before it was unmasked, there was strong evidence pointing to a Funny and Die prank. A costume designer who worked on the shoot posted the experience on her online resume. Shortly after, it was edited.

Web sleuths also tracked down one of the supposed MIT scientists in the video. He turned out to be an actor who had once worked at Google.

Tony Hawk told his Twitter followers on Thursday the video was a fake and apologised.

Slate magazine's Will Oremus wrote that the hoax went too far when it displayed the "completely real" statement.

"A clever hoax invites you to believe; a bad one has to beg," he said. "This one crosses that line..."

It amounted "to nothing but cynical exploitation of humans' tendency to believe other humans when they say something is true", he added.


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