What was fake on the Internet this week: diva brawls, bedbugs and bomb threats


Aretha Franklin, who did NOT brawl with Patti Labelle, arrives at an event in New York in 2011. (REUTERS/Eric Thayer)

There is so much fake stuff on the Internet in any given week that we’ve grown of tired of debunking it all. Fake Twitter fights. Fake DHL ads. Amazing viral video? Nope — a Jimmy Kimmel stunt!

So, rather than take down each and every undeservedly viral story that crosses our monitors each week, we’re rounding them all up in a quick, once-a-week Friday debunk of fake photos, misleading headlines and bad studies that you probably shouldn’t share over the weekend.

Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. Ukraine’s Jews are not in immediate danger. A horrifying news report out of Ukraine rocketed around Twitter Thursday: According to Israel’s YNetNews, Jews in Donetsk received fliers calling for them to “register as Jews … [and] supply a detailed list of all the property they own, or else have their citizenship revoked, face deportation and see their assets confiscated.”

It definitely appears that such a flier did go out, but it’s totally unclear who’s responsible. (Read my colleague Adam Taylor for more details and debunking there.) But here’s one clear, critical takeaway: “Our reporters in Donetsk have spoken to members of the Jewish community, who say that while the letters do appear to have been handed out, it doesn’t seem to be a big deal.”

2. Kids aren’t smoking bedbugs to get high. That latest horror story re: the kids these days apparently originated as an April Fool’s joke, but didn’t catch on until last week … when an untold number of viewers, and bloggers, fell for it. Per Snopes, a YouTube prankster edited footage of a real KNXV-TV report about “dabbing,” changing the graphics and narration to warn of this new “cheap high” instead. False alarm: no one’s smoking bed bugs. And they wouldn’t get high off their “hallucinogenic” innards if they did.

3. No one is bombing American Airlines. This disastrous teen trend kicked off last weekend, when a 14-year-old hoaxer in the Netherlands tweeted a “joking” threat, if such a thing exists, to @AmericanAir. Many dozens of teens followed her lead, bombarding several different airlines with fake bomb threats on Twitter. We repeat: These threats are fake. They’re also not at all funny or provocative.

4. Aretha Franklin did not get in a fist fight with Patti Labelle. The story of that Atlanta, Ga., altercation originated on the (openly satirical) news site TheNewsNerd.com, but somehow took on a life of its own on Facebook, where it’s been shared — often, as actual news — 41,000 times. Franklin took matters into her own hands on Tuesday, when she released, through her publicist, a truly bizarre statement on the non-incident:

I’ve never heard anything crazier—regarding myself and Patti allegedly fighting on March 20, in Atlanta. On March 20, I was in New York City readying for my birthday patty (Sorry. LOL. Laughing at my typo error). I meant PARTY, which we all had one fabulous time. Patti and I are cool and we always have been. I enjoyed her at the White House. Classic Patti.

So that settles that, right? Wrong! To further complicate and funkify matters, Aretha announced Friday morning that she has retained a lawyer to determine whether or not she has a case against the The News Nerd. Neither Aretha nor her lawyer are impressed by the site’s disclaimer, since “a vast majority of readers … never make it beyond the first one or two paragraphs.” So that’s how rumors start in the digital age!

5. (Some of) the South Korean ferry texts are fake. Both social media and the media-media have reported heart-breaking text messages between high-schoolers on the doomed ship and their worried parents: “I love you,” one boy reportedly told his mom, while another student texted her father “Dad, I can’t get out.” Those messages, sent before the ferry sank, appear to be legitimate. But reports that students continued texting after the ship overturned are, sadly, fake: South Korean police told the Wall Street Journal that messages like “I am still alive” were posted on message boards as (very cruel) pranks. A suspect is under investigation.

6. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is not on Twitter. The fairly convincing, now-suspended account appears to be the work of a serial Twitter impersonator, as uncovered by Owen Williams.

7. The Undertaker is still not dead. This rumor about the wrestling star surfaces pretty regularly — something to do, perhaps, with his unapologetically morbid name. Fortunately for concerned wrestling fans, the story originated on Empire Sports — a small, if feisty, satire site whose writers advertise themselves as “trolls.” The Undertaker is well, as is the site: Its hoax story has been viewed more than 1 million times.

8. Bonus thing-that-was-real-that-really-looked-fake: This smug selfie-taker did get kicked in the head by a Peruvian train conductor, after all. There is still wonder and joy on the Internet! Color us relieved.

Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? E-mail caitlin.dewey@washpost.com — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.

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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