WEEKLY WEB WATCH: Super model egg-auction site plays heavenly joke on media

As Internet hoaxes go, Ron’s Angels was quite a good one. After all, The New York Times can now be a case study in one of its own homilies about the need to keep reporting standards just as rigorous when it comes to the Internet as with anything else.

As Internet hoaxes go, Ron’s Angels was quite a good one. After all, The New York Times can now be a case study in one of its own homilies about the need to keep reporting standards just as rigorous when it comes to the Internet as with anything else.

As Internet hoaxes go, Ron’s Angels was quite a good one. After

all, The New York Times can now be a case study in one of its own

homilies about the need to keep reporting standards just as rigorous

when it comes to the Internet as with anything else.



Just in case you didn’t catch the furor, Ron’s Angels is a web site

(www.ronsangels.com) that purported to be auctioning ovarian eggs ’from

beautiful, healthy and intelligent women ... Come up to beauty; come up

to Ron’s Angels; starting bids: dollars 15,000-dollars 150,000 in

dollars 1,000 increments.’



That’s the invitation, and then there’s the justification: ’This is

Darwin’s ’Natural Selection’ at its very best. The highest bidder gets

youth, beauty and social skills. ’Natural Selection’ is choosing genes

that are healthy and beautiful. This ’Celebrity Culture’ that we have

created does better economically than any other civilization in our

history. We are turned on by beauty. Why? It is human nature to strive

to improve everything.



From fruits and vegetables, to animals, to medicine and even to human

genes, we modify everything to produce the best we can. And of course we

all want the best for ourselves and our children.’



What a story! Except for the small detail that it was, well, not quite

what the front page sold it as. The fact that ronsangels.com wanted

dollars 24.95 a month for ’members’ to gain access to ’statistics’ and

’larger pictures’ of the aforementioned beautiful women with eggs to

sell and a shortage of money might have rung a few warning bells. So

might the absence of any auction, apart from an invitation to e-mail in

your bid.



And how was the poor Times to know that a Web search for ’fashion

photographer’ Ron Harris’s other activities would turn up such delights

as eroticboxoffice.com, 24-hoursofsex.com and lipsticklesbians.com?

Unless of course they did the search, but that would have spoiled the

story.



But somebody must have done it, eventually, because it all did come out

in the end: Ron Harris turned out to be nothing more than a sleazeball

porn peddler. Of course, that’s not quite true. He is also rather good

at PR. In fact, he should be up for a PRWeek Award.



The original outrage in the traditional media was surpassed only by the

gloating among online commentators over the credulity of such an august

institution as The New York Times. The traffic to Ron Harris’s sites

must have rocketed, though by how much only he knows. But the point of

the ronsangels.com story is not that the Times got taken for a ride

because of shoddy journalism. It’s that it was all so believable. After

all, we’ve had stories of human organs being auctioned on eBay. And a

couple of weeks ago, there was the couple in court for agreeing to hand

over their 14-year-old son to a man who had advertised on the Internet

for a boy to ’look after.’ After those, an egg auction seems almost

mundane. Even if Ron’s Angels is a hoax, it ought to be true. It fits so

well. It confirms so many of our dark fears about the Internet.



It also beautifully highlights a collective public ambivalence about the

Internet. So Ron Harris is a porn merchant. But in the entire outrageous

Internet gold rush, there is no richer seam to mine, no more successful

sector of e-commerce, than porn. And the essential ingredient that makes

this possible is customers, millions of them, willing to pay for what

Ron Harris and his fellow e-porn peddlers are selling. In a way, Ron’s

Angels is what the Internet is all about. The joke, a rather good joke,

is on those who refuse to admit that.



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