What was fake on the Internet this week: Turing tests, Pokemon planes and angry stingrays


Actor Tracy Morgan was in a serious car accident last Saturday — but he is, contrary the Internet rumor mill, recovering from his injuries. (Mario Anzuon/Reuters)

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. Tracy Morgan has not died or had any amputations. Actor and comedian Tracy Morgan suffered a broken leg and several broken ribs in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike on Saturday — but he did not, contrary the Internet rumor mill, die of his injuries. The rumors seem to have started separately on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, where a host of spam bots have been tweeting nonstop about Morgan’s “death” since the weekend. That would suggest this particular bout of social media shenanigans is not just a bad joke or a misunderstanding, but a for-profit enterprise. (Then again, with headlines like this one from NBC, it’s not terribly difficult to see where run-of-the-mill confusion could spring from.) We defer to the wise words of one April Dawn:

2. Rue McClanahan also did not die this week. While we’re on the subject of death hoaxes, she actually died in 2010.

3. Japan’s soccer team did not arrive at the World Cup in a Pokemon-plastered plane. Pikachu is indeed one of the mascots of Japan’s World Cup soccer team this year ( … a good reason to cheer for a team, if ever I heard one). Sadly, a much-retweeted photo of the team’s Pokemon-themed plane — later circulated by USA Today, SB Nation and the Toronto Sun, among other outlets — is fake. The team arrived in Brazil in a humdrum Japan Airlines jet. The account that originally tweeted otherwise, @FIFAWorldCupTM, describes itself as an “unofficial” source for World Cup news — unofficial being the operative word here.

4. A computer did not pass the Turing test for the very first time. This is a fraught and many-sided issue — so fraught, in fact, that I hesitate to label it “fake” outright. But there’s enough misinformation floating around the interwebs to merit a clarification.  Yes, a chatbot named Eugene did technically pass the Turing test, as a news release from the University of Reading proclaimed. On the other hand, and in contradiction to much of the reporting on the issue, a chatbot is not the same thing as a computer, Eugene cannot actually “think” (no artificial intelligence here!), Eugene’s makers basically cheated the test, and other bots have been said to pass the test before. In sum: Chatbots are cool, and Eugene is a good one. But the age of AI is by no means upon us.

5. The Amazonian rainforest was not defaced for England’s World Cup team. Paddy Power, the Irish bookmaker that’s become a household name thanks to a series of controversial viral marketing stunts, released a photo last weekend of a supportive message by England’s World Cup team … carved into the Amazon. The backlash was — predictably! — fierce, until the company unveiled it as a hoax Sunday. “We knew we’d drop off a fair few Christmas card lists yesterday,” Paddy Power joked in a blog post, “but we couldn’t resist a bit of fake twitter mischief to highlight an important issue. (The free publicity for Paddy Power on the eve of a major sporting event was, presumably, just a nice bonus.)

6. U.S. stores will still take coupons after July 1. A rumor circulating on Facebook and by chain e-mail this week claims that all U.S. stores will stop accepting coupons next month, courtesy Extreme Couponing. Per Snopes, the unlikely story seems to have originated on Sunday Times Daily, a hoax-generator site that lets users make and share real-looking news stories. Don’t worry: Your coupons are safe.

7. An angry sting ray did not chase an Australian man … but a YouTube video that seemed to show him provoking the stingray, and then frantically swimming away from it, racked up more than half a million views (and plenty of outrage) this week. In reality there was no stingray, the man later confessed to Australia’s Gold Coast Bulletin. The shape seen in the video is a shadow cast by a long-tailed kite.

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 · June 12