How to spot the next viral video hoax

September 10, 2013

All across America this morning, bamboozled Internet users are either cursing Jimmy Kimmel and paying up on bets or insisting to annoyed friends and acquaintances that they really, truly thought it was fake all along.

“Caitlin Heller” (real name: stunt girl Daphne) did not actually catch on fire while making a twerking video for her boyfriend — a video that has since gone viral and attracted more than 9.7 million views on YouTube. The video was, in fact, a stunt orchestrated by Jimmy Kimmel … which a lot of people apparently saw coming. Or not.

The truth of the matter is, entertainers (and marketers, and attention-seeking individuals) have an economic incentive to make faux viral videos like this one. Jimmy Kimmel didn’t benefit from the YouTube views on the “twerk fail” — there are no ads before or after the video plays — but the ensuing Internet buzz could translate to more YouTube subscribers, Twitter followers and, ultimately, viewers for his show. In fact, he’s promoted those accounts prominently on the “unedited” version of the video. That makes it likely the Internet will see more fakes in the future.

So how can you spot the next big hoax?

There were a few obvious tip-offs in this video. For one thing, while “Caitlin Heller” wrote her description of the video in the first person, the title of the video is in the third person — “worst twerk fail EVER – girl catches fire!” That’s odd, since people rarely refer to themselves that way. It also seems primed to show up in Google and YouTube searches, a technique that, for the uninitiated, is called “search engine optimization.” Internet people and marketers love SEO. The average clumsy twerker probably doesn’t know much about it.

Tweeters have pointed out a few eyebrow-raising inconsistencies: If you were planning to twerk upside down against a door, wouldn’t you lock it first? Why did the fire start so quickly? Why does the video cut off before we see the aftermath of Heller’s fall? Why does Heller appear to push off the door with her left foot as she goes down?

Most importantly, the source of the video — “Caitlin Heller” — has uploaded no other videos to YouTube, has no real profile on the site, and can’t be found on Facebook, Twitter or any other social networks, despite her apparent comfort with posting personal information online.

None of those things conclusively proved that the video was a hoax. But Storyful, a service that vets social media for journalists, puts it this way: If there are that many “clues” that a video is fake, it probably is.

Of course, you knew that all along.

 

 

 

 

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Emily Yahr | September 10, 2013