In these heady Internet times, it’s all too easy for a fictional story to gain traction in the span of a few hours. More perniciously, it’s easy for news organizations to slap a sexy headline on a story, or pull the juiciest nugget from a study, and drop it on the Internet — forgetting that, in many cases, social-media users don’t actually click through and read the whole thing. We’re not laying any blame, necessarily, but this is how rumors are born in 2014.
So rather than take down each and every undeservedly viral story that crosses our monitors each week, we’re trying this out — a quick, once-a-week debunk of fake photos, misleading headlines and bad studies that you probably shouldn’t share over the weekend. (With major H/Ts to Gawker and Adrienne LaFrance, who pioneered this concept.)
Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. There’s no such thing as a hoverboard, regrettably. Tony Hawk endorsed the amazing “HUVr” device in a YouTube video that’s racked up more than 10 million views. “Sadly, we were lying,” the Web site Funny or Die said in an unfunny “apology” video that unmasked the board as an elaborate celebrity prank.
2. “If/Then” didn’t Travoltify Idina Menzel’s name. Menzel’s costar in the Broadway musical, Janet Krupin, tweeted a picture of a program insert that showed Menzel’s name had been changed to “Adele Dazeem.” Many authoritative Twitter-users took Krupin at her word: New York Times’ culture reporter Dave Itzkoff promptly shared the picture, as did Slate, the New York Daily News and E! Online. Sadly, the whole thing was just a joke — whether by Krupin or someone else remains unclear. A rep for the show told Buzzfeed it was not a real insert and, in fact, that the show hadn’t even begun passing out playbills yet.
3. A Virginia college student did not poison his roommate’s ramen. But he did freak out thousands of Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit users with the dumb prank, in which he live-tweeted the alleged poisoning — complete with pictures! His “agent” (he has an agent?) later clarified the prank this way:
@ChadofLOE I blame you stupid people for going to his page and not having enough sense to notice a joke. it was quite obvious. c’mon mate— Bupé (@YooBoops) March 4, 2014
4. Niagara Falls — still not frozen! How many times do I have to say this? Guys: Those pretty pictures show water vapor crystallizing around the falls. The water still flows just fine underneath. Also, this happens every year. (Looking at you, Daily Mail and USA Today.)
5. Reports of guacamole’s death have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, Chipotle has made this kind of routine risk disclosure about avocados before. Stop panicking, your guac is safe.
6. 11 percent of Americans probably don’t think HTML is an STD. This story made the rounds on many a blog and Web site this week, but the “study” comes from a dubious source — a public relations firm that lists viral stunts among its services. Incidentally, the same firm published another study this week, which found that a whopping 56 percent of relationships end by text, e-mail or social media. We’ll go ahead and say that’s probably questionable as well.
7. Singapore is not the world’s most expensive city. This ranking, like many such rankings, oversimplifies the data to the point of silliness.
Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? Email firstname.lastname@example.org — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.
Update: We have a few additions from readers. (Thank you, readers!)
8. Baby penguins do not need your sweaters. Social media was quick to heed the call for penguin-sized sweaters, purportedly needed to help warm critters caught in an Australian oil spill. There’s a bit of truth to this: Penguin conservationists do sometimes use volunteer-knitted sweaters on penguins. But in this case, conservationists were just wanted the sweaters for a fundraiser. Which will help baby penguins, I guess — but it’s not quite the same thing. (H/T Dartanyan Hetrick)
9. The Sicilian Space Program did not send a pastry into space. In short: Sicily has no space agency, the cannolo was made of clay, and it went up in a balloon … but not all the way to “outer space,” as it’s typically conceived. The confusion springs from some misreading of a quick Reuters item, which is worth reading in its entirety.