I recently ran across an ad from the 50s on Facebook, from the Soda Pop Board of America, citing scientific studies and encouraging parents to start their children on cola earlier in life to improve their chances at a normal social life in their teens.
Some commentators see this ad as an indication of how far we've come. Others use it to demonstrate that Corporate America, for too long, has manipulated us with this kind of propaganda. Even Kevin Trudeau, who presents himself as a expert on, well, just about everything, used the ad in a diatribe about dishonest advertising.
Out of all the comments I've seen about this ad, only a couple have come close to the truth: that the ad is a fake.
It is not a hoax, for a hoax is something faked in order to convince others that it is real. Piltdown Man was a hoax. The Balloon Boy was a hoax. This ad was conceived as a joke.
It took me about five minutes to verify this. A Google search for "Soda Pop Board Of America" yielded only references to this ad, and no actual organization. Searching for the terms "soft drink" and "trade association" helped me find the American Beverage Association, which in the 1950s would have been called American Bottlers Of Carbonated Beverages.
Melissa Data quickly brought me to the conclusion that the address listed on the ad does not exist (always a good idea in a fake, to avoid someone at the actual address getting harrassed). And on the way I found a blog entry by the man who actually created the ad in the first place.
Much has been written about the lack of reliability of information found on the Web, but this is nothing new. Plenty of nonsense and misinformation made it into print long before the Internet, or for that matter moveable type. The aforementioned Kevin Trudeau was responsible for plenty of bad information in the pre-Internet era.
It's all a matter of getting back to the basics of research. For any given bit of information you seek, is to answer the question: "Whose business is it to know?" And then, you need a collection of trusted sources, sites where you know the information to be reliable.
With those principles in mind, the Internet is a magnificent resource for seeking the facts. It amazes me that so many will believe so much that is so unbelievable, when just a few minutes and a few keystrokes could get to the heart of the matter.