The word hoax dates from the 1700s and is believed to be a contraction of hocus — as in hocus pocus, the centuries-old nonsense phrase used by stage magicians (along with abracadabra) to invoke "magic spells."
The advent of the Internet has provided an unprecedented platform for the perpetrators of hoaxes by placing inexpensive, easy-to-use self-publishing tools at everyone's disposal. Email hoaxes in particular spread false information from person to person with astonishing rapidity by encouraging recipients to forward ersatz documents, chain letter-style, to everyone they know. Web hoaxes consist of bogus Websites designed to fool users into believing they are visiting legitimate home pages which in fact present false or misleading information.
Regardless of the specific form it may take, what distinguishes any hoax from mere error or folklore is that it is deliberately deceptive.