TEMPE, Ariz.—There are precious few times when you can legitimately reference Arizona State University, PornHub, Fleshbot and 4chan in the same article, but this is one of them. If it were up to Elizabeth Hawkenson, however, the story that involves those parties—and her—would never have seen the light of day.
Then again, the 18-year-old ASU freshman ultimately has only herself to blame for the internet hoax gone virally out of control, even if she wishes that she had never made that fateful decision to earn a few extra bucks for tuition by shooting a porn scene for Backroom Casting Couch, a website that purports to rip off needy students by promising to pay them and then stiffing them—in more ways than one.
Hawkenson probably also wishes she had never pulled out her ASU ID to use as videotaped proof that she was of age at the time of the shoot. It was that image that ultimately led to the ensuing hoax.
But use the ASU ID she did, and the video she shot was posted to mega-tube site PornHub. From there, the story gets weird. In short order, a story started circulating throughout the blogosphere that someone saw the video and decided to contact ASU to out the girl. An actual letter was drafted by someone—possibly 4chan—and blog after blog repeated the sad tale that Hawkenson was stripped of her $32,000 scholarship because of the vid.
What made the story believable was the fact that some key aspects were true—Hawkenson actually exists, she did shoot the video, the video was on PornHub, and she does receive a scholarship to ASU. The letter also seems as if it might be legit.
Arizona Board of Regents
2020 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004-4593
RE: Elizabeth A. Hawkenson (Copperas Cove, Texas), 2010 ASU Freshman Class
I am writing to express my shock and horror at the public conduct of a member of Arizona State University's 2010 freshman class, Elizabeth A. Hawkenson of Copperas Cove, Texas. This person recently appeared in an internet video in which she identified herself by name, showed her ASU student ID card, then proceeded to engage in explicit and degrading sexual activities with a stranger. She was paid for the act and signed a waiver allowing the video to be posted on the internet.
As an ASU alumnus, I object to Ms. Hawkenson's choice to identify herself as an ASU student in a pornographic video that is available to the general public. I feel that which clearly violates the ASU Student Code of Conduct.
On behalf of my fellow ASU alumni, I demand that Ms. Hawkenson's $32,000 New American Scholar Award be revoked immediately. A young woman who brings shame on her university in such a public and degrading way does not deserve the financial support of that university.
Anonymous ASU Alumnus
Today, even Gawker’s Fleshbot picked it up, kind of believing that it might be true but also suspicious about the anonymous letter and the fact that “we can't find an original source for this letter. Tons of people have it printed, sure, but no one indicates how they got a hold of it, or how they know it's legit.”
A later update on the site noted, “Well, thanks to our commenters, we now know that the letter is the product of the bright minds at 4chan, who always enjoy a rousing round of slut shaming. Pathetic. Just ... pathetic.”
Well, it turns out that their skepticism was warranted, though even their update doesn’t chronicle the extent of the hoax perpetrated by … 4chan? Maybe. No one seems to know at this point.
But the Phoenix New Times, doing what real journalists do, actually contacted both Hawkenson and the school, and lo and behold, there had been no repercussion for the making of the video.
“The Board of Regents says it never received the letter, and Hawkenson says the scholarship hasn't been revoked. She's still attending ASU and living in a dorm,” reported the New Times, adding that “the publicity she's gotten from the video has "been treacherous for [her]."
That part sounds all too real, considering the promises Hawkenson says the porn site made her.
“She says she was paid $2,000 and assured the video would only appear on the part of the [website] people had to pay to see,” the alternative weekly wrote. “That didn't happen. The video found [its] way to free porn sites like Pornhub.com and Hawkenson became (ahem) a star.”
There are so many lessons to be learned in this story that frankly we don’t even know where to begin, so we won’t.