Paranormal investigators may encounter instances of manufactured "evidence." Please note that I use the term evidence loosely,--there is no such thing as scientific evidence of ghosts.
I have not specifically encountered anything that I have been able to identify as a hoax in an attempt to fool our group, however, I frequently run across photographs--as well as audio and video--posted on various Web sites that I feel have been misidentified as paranormal phenomena. I should note that we encourage our consultants to submit hoaxed photographs to us--anonymously--in an attempt to sharpen our groups' debunking skills.
On Web sites such as Youtube, while there are clearly hoaxed videos, there are more that are simply misidentified...nothing malicious or tricky involved. It's usually some simple phenomena that is easily debunked, but due to inexperience or 'want of belief', is purported to be paranormal and-- even more of a jump--identified as a spirit or ghost.
So, why does this occur? I believe this usually arises from some combination of the two simple reasons I've listed below.
1. Due to inexperience with investigating and equipment
2. Due to wanting to believe in ghosts
Instances of faked or misrepresented "evidence" on the Web abound. I'm not talking about 'plasma' or 'light' anomalies identified as possibly paranormal by investigators. Without a great degree of expertise in photographic analysis and competent investigating--and even when these two factors are present--often you can't say for sure if something is paranormal. To skeptics, everything is a reflection, and to some paranormal investigators, everything is a ghost. Often there may be no obvious answer and one can never say for sure, so who's right?
Regardless of my personal beliefs, I feel that I have an obligation to be a skeptic. Others more readily apply the paranormal label to something that's not easily explained. In my five years as an investigator, I have captured only one or two pieces of evidence that I can call paranormal with any amount of certainty.
Competent paranormal investigators attempt to rule out all rational causes for an anomaly--a process often termed 'debunking.' What's left may just be unexplainable, which is to say, paranormal. The best that we can do is find something we can't explain. To take a step further, calling legitimate paranormal phenomena a ghost is a very big leap of faith. Some individuals don't seem to be able to comprehend this--or don't care. To them, if it's paranormal, it must be a spirit or ghost.
With adequate skill and research, we may be able to label something paranormal Skeptics will still discount it, but, to simply call something a ghost because you can't explain it leaves you wide open to skeptics. You may be able to determine that something is paranormal, but you'll never be able to determine that something is a ghost.
Many groups and individuals fall in the inexperienced and want of belief categories, and examples of such groups are just a few mouse clicks away. However, there is another type of behavior, a behavior I consider more misleading, and may even amount to outright self-promotion using misidentified or manufactured evidence.
1. Specific manufacturing/altering of evidence in order to gain recognition, monetary, and/or in an attempt to become famous.
Say, for example, you owned a hotel and wanted to drum up business. Manufacturing your own first-hand accounts and evidence makes perfect sense. Why not?
Gain a reputation as a haunted hotel and I would hazard that your business will probably increase. The few customers that would stay away from such locations are probably outnumbered by the ones that would come in droves. And, you could market your inn to ghost hunters.
During the slow months, you could contact ghost hunters from across the country and encourage them to come and stay in your "haunted" hotel. You could also host ghost hunter conferences. Though a bit duplicitous, this can be considered a good marketing strategy. No one knows if ghosts exist or not, so its not exactly false advertising.
But, if you claimed to be a paranormal investigator and owned a haunted hotel, and fabricated evidence, well, that makes you pretty low in my eyes. It becomes a conflict of interest at this point. You would have a vested interest in fabricating evidence for monetary gain. And simultaneously being a purported paranormal investigator, you would be doing the field a disservice.
Now we come to the relative few--ghost hunters who manufacture or alter evidence for their own recognition. This may be unintentional, but also may be clearly intentional. Exhibiting a picture of an easily debunked reflection or camera anomaly, and saying "We weren't able to find an explanation for this phenomena so it might be a ghost. We'll leave it up to you to decide," is very misleading. Other open ended questions such as "What do you think caused that? or "Do you think something was trying to make contact?" also fall into this category.
The group didn't try very hard to debunk whatever phenomena supposedly occured, and even if they did, they are still implying that perhaps a ghost is responsible.
Remember that you are representing yourself as someone with a specific area of expertise, but by presenting things in this fashion, you are leading people to a conclusion upon which there is no basis. What sounds like a logical line of reasoning is not. You are leading people down a path for your own benefit. You aren't really leaving it up to the person to decide on their own. To top it all off, you're not taking a stand either, which implies you are either incompetent, simply unsure, and/or unwilling to expose yourself to potential criticism.
Presentations of pieces of evidence like this--and the misleading open-ended conclusions or insinuations--may mislead the public to mis-identifying easily identifiable phenomena as paranormal.
Finally,there are those people who alter or outright manufacture evidence for their own gain. Without being specific, I have encountered this behavior first-hand. The investigators added something to the purported evidence. It was probably in good faith--an attempt to determine how the phenomena was created. The problem was when the subsequent evidence was presented as a whole. It was labeled a paranormal phenomena, and even worse, it was clearly stated that the phenomena was created by a ghost!
Now how could anyone know that with any degree of certainty, and why would they present falsified evidence and proclaim it was created by a ghost? Simple, for recognition, and due to an overzealous "want of belief," as well as do to inexperience with paranormal investigations and the rigors of handling and documenting evidence.
So, here we have a piece of evidence which may or may not have been created by a paranormal phenomena that was altered by the addition of further stimuli created by the investigators. In my eyes, this potential piece of evidence was ruined by the investigators. In addition, the subsequent presentation of the evidence without mention of the portions of the data that were altered by the investigator leads me to one conclusion: this is an inexperienced and overzealous investigator at the least. At the worst, this is an individual that has no problem manufacturing evidence in an attempt to gain recognition. Either way, I have to disregard all future evidence that is presented, assuming everything that is presented has possibly been tampered with. If a scientist conducted research in this way, they would be discredited and their reputation would be ruined.
This is something beyond just enlarging a picture or amplifying an audio file. It's a clear and conscious manufacturing and misrepresentation of potential evidence, and then shaping it in such a way for personal gain.
There are a lot of mistakes to be made in the investigation of the paranormal, one of which is to exhibit behavior that is damaging to the field at large. You have to keep a close eye out for these types of behaviors, and I firmly believe that--when recognized--people should be called on it. Unfortunately, in my experience, the exact people who are likely to exhibit this behavior, are the ones least likely to engage in any type of constructive dialogue.
Bobby Elgee; Sights Unseen Paranormal