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@DaveGorman : I’m using the version of the Oxford Dictionary that came with my Kindle. It says ‘a humorous or malicious deception’. For the sake of being über nerdy, we’ll use the Oxford English Dictionary Online:
An act of hoaxing; a humorous or mischievous deception, usually taking the form of a fabrication of something fictitious or erroneous, told in such a manner as to impose upon the credulity of the victim.
The definition is ambiguous in terms of intentionality on the part of the ‘hoaxer’. For example, I may explain to someone the current affairs of the world and impose on them a world view which is utterly negative without intending to. As communication is an active process (it requires a speaker to try to communicate something & the listener to interpret what is being communicated -what I say and what is heard are two different things), a person may unintentionally trick someone into believing a falsehood. I might say to a friend ‘I was with my girlfriend last night night and put my meat sauce into her pie’, which he might take to mean that I was talking about sex, when in actual fact I was merely trying to tell him about my secret recipe sauce that I added to my girlfriend’s meal which I thought really brought out the flavors of the dish.
Paul Chambers was charged with ‘sending a menacing electronic communication’. The fact that a non-threatening/menacing tweet was construed as menacing by the judge when in fact it was ‘innocuous hyperbole’ (according to Paul Chambers) means the message was deceptive (what was communicated and what was intended are at odds with each other), and the fact that it was of a fairly trivial nature (no-one at the airport took it seriously and no-one was harmed, except maybe Paul Chamber’s anonymity to the general public) -and that the intent of the tweet was a joke (& went on to spawn the #Iamspartacus movement which, at the very least, I found amusing)- would make it mischievous/humorous rather than serious/upsetting/etc. Of course that doesn’t make it a good hoax, by any means.
Saying all that though, I have my doubts that the person at the BBC who tweeted the original message we’re debating over never intended any such discussion or slant on the meaning of hoax 😛 (I assume hoax just sounds more ‘flashy’ -and less wordy- than ‘trivial tweet that somehow generated unnecessary controversy’)
Background information for everyone else: