Japanese Suicide Robot – Fact or fiction? Hint: we got trolled

Recently on the Computer Guru Show we talked about a creepy new Japanese suicide robot called Seppukuma. We reported that Seppukuma was an assisted suicide robot that would help the elderly and terminally ill end their lives through a variety of methods including suffocation, lethal injection and strangulation.

We got trolled.


As it turns out, our source was a satirical site called IFLScience.org. Their site was designed to look exactly like the far more reputable site IFLScience.com, and the copy was so good it fooled even us. As it turns out, there is no suicide robot. There is a health care robot (the one pictured in the article we used) being developed in Japan to help the elderly. It’s called RoBear, and it helps people get out of bed rather than smother them with pillows. We’re the gurus! How could this happen? Well, it turns out there’s actually a principle at play that explains how even the Computer Gurus can fall for a ridiculous hoax.

It’s called Poe’s Law, and it’s a simple principle that states that “without a clear indicator of the author’s intent, parodies of extremism are indistinguishable from sincere expressions of extremism.”  The principle was originally written in 2005 by Nathaniel Poe in an internet forum on Christianity. He posted an argument on creationism that included a winking emoticon, and another commentator wrote, “Good thing you included the winky. Otherwise people might think you’re serious.”

Poe responded by pointing out that, “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is utterly impossible to to parody a Creationist in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.” Thus, Poe’s law was born, and since then has been expanded to apply to any type of fundamentalism or extremism.

Basically, because the site our information came from looked like the real deal, and there was nothing on the site indicating it was satire, we took it as fact, not fiction. But we were wrong, and now we have to own up to it.

So how can you avoid getting taken for a ride by a satirical site? Look at the top of the page you’re on; many of these sites, such as The Onion or The Daily Currant state that they’re satire right on the page. Not sure? Run it through Snopes.com or at least a thorough google search before you do something absurd, like stating a false story as fact on the radio. That would be awful…

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