What was fake on the Internet this week: giant asteroids, One Direction and kids who think Maya Angelou is Rosa Parks


An artist’s rendering of the rings surrounding the remote asteroid Chariklo… which is not about to wipe out all life on Earth. (EPA/L. Calcada / Nick Risinger / European Space Organization)

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. A giant asteroid is not on course to collide with Earth. But more than 200,000 readers feared as much after CNN published a story predicting that “all life on this planet could be extinguished in less than 30 years.” The story appeared on CNN’s iReport, which crowd-sources personal accounts, photos and other content from users. Per its user policy, CNN doesn’t “edit, fact-check or screen” iReport submissions before they post, making it a potentially fertile ground for pranksters. The network did eventually catch on, however, pulling the story and confirming with NASA that no such asteroid was approaching. Phew.

2. 4chan is behind the “strip for One Direction” trend. Members of the community’s mischievous /b/ board — the same folks who brought you #cutforbieber and #bikinibridge — created a series of fake Twitter accounts to fool teenagers into sharing nude photos as a show of support for the band One Direction. You’d hope America’s youth would see the futility of all that, but it seems at least a few got pulled into the prank: More than 89,000 people tweeted on the #skinfor1D hashtag, which briefly trended worldwide. It’s unclear how many of those tweets came from fake 4chan accounts and how many came from actual “Directioneers.” In either case, the band’s Liam Payne apparently felt that the thing had gone so far that he needed to weigh in.

3. A woman did not find herpes-infected semen in her McDonald’s McChicken Sandwich. Nor did she find any semen at all, thank God. This little story has been making the rounds on Twitter and minor blogs for days, despite the improbability of a woman (a) finding such a specimen in her sandwich, (b) having the conviction to take it for testing at the Department of Health and (c) developing herpes from it, since herpes is spread through skin-to-skin contact. McDonald’s told Buzzfeed they have no record of such a complaint … probably because this is actually a very long-running, unpleasant genre of Internet hoax.

4. Teens on Twitter aren’t confusing Maya Angelou and Rosa Parks. Well, maybe a couple are. But it would seem the vast majority of historically addled teens are actually just trolling — pretty effectively, in some cases.

5. Johns Hopkins does not think diet cures cancer better than chemotherapy. A widely forwarded e-mail claiming that everyone has cancer cells and that nutritional changes can kill them (…among other illogical things) did not originate at Johns Hopkins University, as it claims. In fact, the world-renowned medical school and its Kimmel Cancer Center are working really, really hard to shut the hoax down. Johns Hopkins recently published a point-by-point debunk of every medical claim in the e-mail, as well as an appeal to “mythbusters” to help curb its spread. And their pro-activeness makes sense: Unlike other silly hoaxes (see, for instance, contaminated McChickens), fake stories about cancer spread both false hope and dangerous misinformation. To be totally clear:

The gist of this viral email is that cancer therapies of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy do not work against the disease and people should instead choose a variety of dietary strategies. Traditional therapies, such as surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, work.

6. Seoul does not have new, pink parking spaces for women. It does have pink parking spaces, and they are for women! But they are, as Mashable humorously debunked last night, a full five years old. It seems like bad attribution in an Australian car blog — of all places — inspired the recent rash of coverage on the “Today” show and in the Huffington Post, among several other major outlets.

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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Caitlin Dewey · May 29