"Why and how was this done ?"

Copyright 1999 by Bill Cross. All rights reserved.

Some time in July, I decided that I was going to build a specialty website for comedy writers. I wanted to do the web design and layout myself but my webmastering skills were sorely lacking. I thought it would be best to get some practice first on something less important, maybe some sort of art-project. Y2K was coming up, so I thought the site should have an end-of-the-world theme. "How about a spoof (not a hoax, mind you) of a company that’s selling the mark of the beast?"  That way it would be an exercise in creating a business-like website and still be an art project. It sounded like a reasonable plan.

The project: was to create a spoof website of a company peddling the mark of the beast, and then to compile and tabulate e-mails and log data that trickled in over the next few months from people and companies who wanted to know more. The site was to be loaded with enough clues so that anyone who scrutinized it would know it wasn't for real and would therefor not panic.  It was never intended to fool, but rather to make curious. I wanted to see which high-tech companies would visit the site to check up un the goings on here. My hypothesis was that any company that was curious about the goings-on at the IdChip site was a company that should be watched, but of course, that too was approached half-jokingly. Granted, if I wanted to be more scientific in that regard, I would have made the site look more authentic and got rid of the humor. But keep in mind this project ultimately was just an effort to develop web building skills. I didn’t exactly have funding from the National Science foundation.

I spent a few hours writing the copy, then proceeded to figure out how to build a decent website. I wanted to get enough practical experience so that I would be prepared for my work on the comedy writers site.

The site was launched inadvertently on Tuesday 17th by a visiting friend who didn’t understand that I hadn’t yet made it public. As it turns out, it was sort of akin to the President of the United States stepping out of the bathroom to find that his drinkin' buddy has just launched World War III.  He posted (on a small number of usenet groups) something to the effect that there was a company selling the mark of beast at Idchip.com. The usenet users instantly debunked the site as a spoof. I didn’t think much of it and went about my daily affairs. I checked on the web sites traffic the next day, wondering if much of anybody had been to the site yet. Not only had they been there, but traffic appeared to be growing extremely rapidly. On the first full day of operation the site had more that 4,200 distinct user sessions averaging 6 minutes each. I felt like I was one of those scientists in the movies who is witnessing a plague that's spreading out of control. (One of my favorite movies is The Omega Man, and I could not help but compare the whole IDchip ordeal to that movie. Especially later when I was under virtual attack by the End-Timers whose tone and level of hostility bore a remarkable resemblance to that of Mathias’s group) I was glad that the site was drawing interest but I was concerned that people were taking it way too seriously.

In this very short time, emails were pouring in from hysterical Christians and privacy enthusiasts who thought it was for real. But I was also getting e-mail from people who knew it was a spoof, as well as from folks who just weren't sure. My imaginary corporate executive were getting interview requests from the major media (and from lots of minor media). One of the big, serious national newsmagazines wanted specs on the chip. A renown technology corespondent with one of the big radio networks wanted to interview my imaginary staff about the company. And a national television network which focuses on privacy and religious issues wanted to interview my imaginary C.F.O., Malcolm Rothschild (Rothschild was who everybody wanted to interview. They were chomping at the bit to actually talk to a member of the Rothschild family, which has been associated with just about every conspiracy theory to come down the pike.

Eventually, I realized that I was getting another kind of visitor to the site: People who actually wanted to receive the mark of the beast just to get in on the IPO. I was totally blind-sided by that. I never expected that to happen (granted, most applicants were just jokers or people who wanted to spy on the company, others were not.). I soon removed from the application form, the fields where people were volunteering sensitive information like credit card numbers.

By the end of the second full day, the site had more that 6,800 distinct user sessions per day. The hate mail from Christians was overwhelming me and taking a toll on my spirit. The spoiler that I had in the employment page was being overlooked by most people and having little effect. I decided that people were taking the site entirely too seriously and I decided to pull the plug, so around midnight on Friday August 20, I revealed to all that they should calm down and that my site was nothing to be concerned about.

After the smoke cleared, the log files showed a lot of interest from a particular few high-tech companies. This may be completely meaningless, but I am working through the enormous log files trying to draw from them a reasoned conclusion.

The gist of the angry Christian e-mail was that they were completely convinced that we were actually selling the mark of the beast and thus ushering in the end-times. I received an e-mail from a person who claimed to be a computer technician at one of the major religious broadcasting companies. He said something to the effect that the people there were freaking out over the IDchip until some of their computer people eventually managed to convince them that it was just a spoof.

I have gotten word, from a source that I regard as reliable, that at least one national religious broadcaster was going to break the Idchip story as legitimate over the weekend.

If this project had been done not as a spoof but rather as a genuine hoax by someone less benign than myself,  I am thoroughly convinced that it would have led to a cataclysmic event.

If you will excuse me, I am going to take a break now and finally go see the Blair Witch Project.


Bill Cross

Copyright 1999 by Bill Cross. All rights reserved.


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