What was fake on the Internet this week: Date-rape nail polish, ‘two moons’ and the return of ‘Breaking Bad’


The “perigee moon,” a (real!!) astronomical phenomenon. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

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. Nail polish can’t actually prevent date-rape. The media, social and otherwise, cheered the invention of an “anti-date rape” nail polish at North Carolina State University, where students claimed their polish would change colors when exposed to common date rape drugs. Unfortunately, the “claim” is … just that. As my colleague Gail Sullivan noted in the Morning Mix, the vast majority of date rapes don’t involve the four drugs the nail polish detects. More problematic? In many a laboratory study, the chemical test used by the new polish often fails to detect the drugs in question, while turning up false positives for lots of other benign things. That makes the date rape polish a great headline, but a more or less useless tool. “We like simple fixes,” writes the drug columnist at Animal New York — but this one, alas, is “a false panacea.”

2. There are never — never! — “two moons.” Despite the repeated dissuasions of peeved astronomers, late summer marks the arrival of an annual Internet tradition: promises that Mars will soon be close enough to Earth that it’s as large and as visible as the moon. Needless to say, this makes zero scientific sense. (Just look at a scaled diagram of the solar system.) But the photos that circulate with this hoax are obvious frauds, too: In the popular image below, for instance, the “second” moon is a clear clone of the other. NASA has helpfully supplied a real photo of Mars approaching Earth — needless to say, it’s not quite so impressive.

3. “Breaking Bad” will not return for a sixth season. This particular Internet rumor is like the anti-death hoax: Instead of claiming that a beloved thing has ended, bogus-satire site National Review claims a beloved thing is coming back. “Walter White is not dead, and there will indeed be a sixth season of the wildly-popular, award-winning AMC drama,” reads the piece, which has been shared well over a half-million times. Repeat: Everything on National Report is fake. Even the good news about your favorite TV show.

4. The New York Times’ characterization of Michael Brown as “no angel” was slightly less egregious than you think. There has been a lot of controversy around the New York Times’ Aug. 25 profile of Ferguson, Mo., shooting victim Michael Brown, wherein the piece’s author described the teen as “no angel.” But a widely circulated image that juxtaposed the “no angel” paragraph next to the “Times’” description of Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — “just a normal American kid” — essentially compares apples and oranges. That’s because the Tsarnaev paragraph came from Rolling Stone. As the Times’ Daniel Victor points out, this is how rumors start in 2014.

5. Eric Holder didn’t pay gangs to riot in Ferguson, and George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested there. While we’re on the subject of Ferguson, let’s dispense with these two hoax articles, both (predictably!) from the National Report. The posts have been shared a combined 600,000 times, including on several conservative blogs and news sites. “Even though we always vet stories, unfortunately we are human and accidents occur,” wrote the managing editor of the blog Conservative Hideout 2.0. “That was the case with the above titled story about Eric Holder. Upon review we found that the original story emanated from a parody news site.”

6. There is no such thing as “smartphone-loss anxiety disorder” — despite the articles you may have seen on the subject. As Bettina Chang debunked it over at Pacific Standard, the confusion originated in a press release about a study on what people do after they lose their smartphones. The study didn’t actually look at “anxiety” or “disorder,” two very loaded medical terms; it basically just asked respondents things like did they know phones could be wiped remotely, and would they tell their employer a phone had been lost. (The respective answers to those questions: No and yes.)

7. That photo of a black man beating a white woman is from a joke video on Youtube. Many a Twitter conservative is sharing this image of “black thugs beating a white woman senseless,” often with truly disgusting results. But as one sharp-eyed Redditor points out in Twitter’s “rage” forum, the image is actually a still from a joke Spider-Man video on Youtube. Ironically, and quite dishearteningly, people don’t seem to understand that video (of a superhero!!) is fake, either. For what it’s worth, @gamma_ray239 — the original circulator of the photo from the video — has since quietly taken it down.


A screen shot of the (now deleted) tweet. (Reddit)

8. Neither Chris Brown nor Sylvester Stallone nor Joan Rivers is dead. Rivers did stop breathing during a minor medical procedure Thursday, but at the time of this posting she was listed in stable condition.

9. JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon is not on Twitter. But an account claiming to represent him fooled several outlets, including the Atlantic Wire, before it was suspended.

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 is The Post’s digital culture critic. Follow her on Twitter @caitlindewey or subscribe to her daily newsletter on all things Internet. (tinyletter.com/cdewey)

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Caitlin Dewey · August 28, 2014