What was fake on the Internet this week: Facebook’s ‘drug task force,’ ice bucket deaths and the Louisville purge

August 22, 2014

No one has died doing this. Yet. (Edyta Blaszczyk/The Odessa American via AP)

There is so much fake stuff on the Internet in any given week that we’ve grown 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. Lawless, amoral teens are not rioting in cities across the U.S. The so-called “Louisville Purge” sounds like a bad movie plot … because it is. The rumor, which began with a “joke” tweet from a Louisville teen last week, is ripped directly from the 2013 horror movie “The Purge” — in which, for 12 hours, people can commit any crime without consequences. According to that initial Louisville tweet, and a long series of copycat messages on Twitter and Reddit, teens everywhere from Detroit to New Orleans are now plotting murder and looting sprees of their own.

Needless to say, “the purge” has came and went in each of these cities without consequence. “The Purge is a popular horror movie,” Alabama police patiently explained on Facebook on Tuesday after getting “numerous calls” from frightened residents. “This is an urban legend and is not a credible threat.”

2. Facebook isn’t starting a “drug task force.” A story Monday on National Report — one of those arguably unfunny sites that Facebook now marks with a “satire” tag — convinced thousands of panicked stoners that the social network would soon begin monitoring their posts and private messages for references to drugs. The story claimed, among other things, that Facebook planned to “work directly with the Drug Enforcement Agency” to “put away the bad guys.” But of course, like everything else on National Report, it’s false. (“Spectacularly” false, a Facebook spokesman told Gawker.)

3. No one has died doing the Ice Bucket Challenge. A number of rumors — some of them started on established hoax sites, like Huzlers and Empire News — suggest that people have either died, developed hypothermia or suffered head or neck injuries while performing the Ice Bucket Challenge, an uber-viral social media stunt on behalf of ALS charities. In reality, there’s only one verified report of an injury from the current iteration of the challenge: Four firefighters in Kentucky suffered serious burns when the hose they were using to spray college students for the stunt got too close to a power line. As for “fail” videos like this one, be suspicious: Who wears a helmet to an ice bucket challenge?

4. Robin Williams did not film a goodbye video just before his death. An unusually unprincipled scammer has been circulating a post on Facebook that claims Williams filmed a last-minute cellphone video before he died and that the BBC has the exclusive footage. When you click into the “BBC” link, however, you’re actually taken to a fake Web site, which prompts users to download plugins or take surveys in order to see the clip. PSA: There is no video, and scammers make money every time you click. The security firm Symantec says Facebook is working to rein in the hoax.

A screenshot of the (hoax) BBC page, via Symantec. (Symantec)
A screenshot of the (hoax) BBC page, via Symantec. (Symantec)

5. A popular rock band did not plagiarize an ’80s Argentinean pop star. The accusations about Tame Impala (probably best known for their charting single “Elephant”) and Pablo Ruiz (probably best known for claiming he once kissed Ricky Martin) appeared on the Chilean music site Rata this month. To the surprise of Rata and just about everybody else, they quickly picked up steam in the international music press, despite the fact that the whole thing was, per the site’s editors, just a dumb idea they dreamt up at a party. “Things sometimes take an unexpected turn that you never expect,” they wrote on Rata this week. “What started as a joke went viral thanks to the magic of the Internet.”

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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