Type of site
|Owner||Dr. Michael Wong Chang|
|Created by||Dr. Michael Wong Chang|
|Alexa rank||610,307 (April 2014[update])|
|Current status||Offline, redirects to fake retailer sites|
Bonsai Kitten was a hoax website that claimed to provide instructions on how to grow a kitten in a jar, so as to mold the bones of the kitten into the shape of the jar as the cat grows, much like how a bonsai plant is shaped. It was made by an MIT university student going by the alias of Dr. Michael Wong Chang. The website generated furor after members of the public complained to animal rights organizations. The Michigan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) stated that "while the site's content may be faked, the issue it is campaigning for may create violence towards animals". Although the website was shut down some time ago, petitions are still circulated to shut down the site or complain to its ISP. The website has been debunked by several organizations including snopes.com and the Humane Society of the United States.
Start of the website
On October 30, 2000, BonsaiKitten.com was featured as a "Cruel Site of the Day" on the website Cruel.com. When this attracted complaints, Cruel.com removed its links to BonsaiKitten.com. Afterwards, however, when links to the BonsaiKitten.com website then spread across the world, many concerned animal lovers sent complaints to the Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States. Animal welfare groups made statements saying that Bonsai Kittens were not real. The URL drew criticism, which caused the initial host, MIT, to remove it.
Description of the spoof
BonsaiKitten.com's pictures show kittens in jars, presented as real examples of the "lost art" as described on the Bonsai Kitten web page. The spoof, according to "Dr. Chang", is that the world increasingly sees nature as a commodity, so such a site may well be in demand. The spoof came to large-scale attention as The Cruel Site of the Day for December 22, 2000, and was continually heavily condemned by animal rights organizations, and after hundreds of people complained daily to them, they stated that even if Bonsai Kitten was a spoof it "encourages animal cruelty".
The webpage being featured on the cruel.com website was significantly controversial and it was quickly removed. Initial humane society statements decrying the website as "encouraging abuse" caused local investigation, along with an FBI announcement that it was to investigate the hoax. The prosecution of the site by the FBI was welcomed by animal activists, but decried by web authorities. The FBI backed up its investigating of Bonsai Kitten by using a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1999. The attacking of the BonsaiKitten.com website had the effect of displacing the website, which found a new ISP two more times, before being permanently hosted on Rotten.com servers. Because the website is still kept on some mirrors, it continues[needs update] to receive complaints from animal activists.
Since 2000, groups such as the Animal Welfare Institute and The Humane Society of the United States have received hundreds of complaints. Animal welfare groups declared the site as fake but stated they did believe it was potentially harmful. Other animal rights groups have stated that the site creates an atmosphere of cruelty to animals. There is no evidence to date that the site is anything more than satire. Numerous authorities have advised people to stop sending complaint forms via email.
The original bonsaikitten.com is mirrored by many sites today. The nature and presentation of the sites content is such that many animal rights activists still take issue with the context of the website. Bonsai Kitten has been further updated from other servers, but infrequently and slowly, with recent additions to the site being research indicating that kitty litter causes brain damage. The website states that this enhances the Bonsai Kitten art form's practical value.
History of the controversy
The controversy started soon after the creation of the BonsaiKitten.com website. It has continued since and has been the object of numerous spam email pleas. These pleas rely on the audiences, often not knowing English, to spread them. Consequently, these petitions are often spread via the Internet in non-English-speaking countries. Blues News also provided a link, which was shortly thereafter removed from the site, as complaints against the website's existence and its content began to surface.
- "Bonsaikitten.com Site Info". Alexa Internet. Retrieved 2014-04-01.
- Declan McCullagh (9 February 2001). "FBI Goes After BonsaiKitten.com". Wired News. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014.
- Jennifer Jacobson (21 January 2001). "Created at MIT, a 'Bonsai Kitten' Website Stirs Animal Lovers' Passions". The Chronicle. Archived from the original on 11 February 2008.
- Joe Salkowski (19 February 2001). "Animal Lovers Aren't Laughing at kitty-contorting web spoof". Dispatches Ground Zero. Archived from the original on 10 March 2005.
- Linda Fuoco (8 August 2001). "Pet Tales - Monthly Column". Pittsburgh Post Gazette.
The Allegheny County district attorney's office launched an investigation after receiving complaints about Bonsai Kitten. Within minutes investigators learned the kitties were a hoax.
- Janelle Brown (2001). "The Internet's Public Enema No.1". Salon. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
- Smith, Andrew (10 February 2001). "FBI goes Bonsai Kitten hunting". The Register.
- Theo Emery (2001-02-22). "Animal Lovers Not Laughing at about joke Internet site "Bonsai Kitten"". Associated Press.
- Bonsai Kitten. Snopes. Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- Smith, Andrew (26 January 2001). "Bonsai Kitten craze sweeps online world". The Register.