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
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
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.