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. Betty White is not dead — and if she had a dollar for every time someone falsely tweeted that she was, she’d be a
wealthy even wealthier woman by now. In fact, this is the second time White, 92, has fallen victim to a viral death hoax in the past six months alone. Like many a viral rumor, this one began on Empire News, a less-than-funny “satire” site that actually mustered a bit of wit on this one: Their headline was actually “Actress Betty Whites, 92, Dyes Peacefully In Her Los Angeles Home” and the story was about her coloring her hair. Of course, as Empire News and its ilk know very well, people on the Internet are not terribly fond of nuance. Nearly half a million people had missed the pun, as of Thursday afternoon.
2. Those photos of Darren Wilson in the hospital are not actually of Darren Wilson. No one knows exactly what injuries Ferguson, Mo., Officer Wilson sustained in his encounter with Michael Brown, which left the teenager dead and sparked a national debate about justice and race. But that ambiguity hasn’t stopped Warren’s Internet advocates from circulating photos of his “broken face,” like this one that was popular on both Facebook and the Web site of right-wing talk show host Larry Elder this week. The man in the photo is actually Jim McNeil, a freestyle motocross rider who crashed his bike in 2006 (and later died, in 2011, from a separate motocross injury). McNeil and Wilson do admittedly look a little bit alike. If you squint through a black eye, anyway.
3. British police did not predict an imminent attack on the London Underground. A chain message that circulated widely via text, WhatsApp and social media last weekend convinced thousands of Brits that police were rallying for an early-morning terrorist strike on the “Tube.” In fact, the warnings — which claimed to originate with in-the-know friends and family of police officers — were completely made-up. While Britain has raised its official terror threat level to severe, the head of London’s transit police tweeted that there was “no specific threat” and no reason to avoid the subway.
Getting a taxi to work tomorrow. No way in hell I am risking the tube. Petrified.— Belle Avery (@BelleGirlSoho) September 1, 2014
4. Twitter is not introducing a “Facebook-style” filter. The technorati and Twitter elite suffered a full-scale meltdown Thursday afternoon when Gigaom’s Matthew Ingram reported that “a Facebook-style filtered feed is coming, whether you like it or not.” That claim was based on comments Twitter CFO Anthony Noto made at a meeting on Wednesday. But as cooler heads have since clarified, Noto never said Twitter planned to filter users’ feeds — only that the company wanted to find a way to resurface content users may have missed. We don’t know exactly what that means, but it’s no reason to panic. (Yet.)
5. A 15-year-old gamer was not jailed for “swatting.” In a veritable layer cake of hoaxes on hoaxes, the fake news Web site National Report published a made-up story on the consequences of swatting … which is, in and of itself, a prank. Swatting, for the uninitiated, is an inexplicably popular prank wherein someone calls a fake tip in to police and thus summons a SWAT team to some innocent’s home. (It’s become particularly trendy among gamers, who can — via Twitch — view their mischief in real-time.) Calling in a fake police tip is, of course, illegal — just not 25-years-to-life illegal. To date, even the most egregious swatters haven’t served more than a few years. But perhaps because we all secretly hate these shenanigans — and wish these little punks would learn a lesson, already — more than 250,000 people gleefully shared the National Report “story,” including the tech and science blog Boing Boing. It is, of course, 100-percent fictional.
6. Canadians did not throw a U.S. hockey star in jail. But one of Canada’s largest wire services, the QMI, mysteriously reported that the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby was jailed in Ottawa Wednesday after being pulled over in a rented Porsche. Police have no idea where the rumor started — Crosby isn’t even in Canada right now — but the “out and out blatant lie” was printed in several major Canadian newspapers before QMI took it back. “There was no basis for the story,” the retraction reads, “and QMI unreservedly retracts the story in its entirety.” Penguins fans were still kind of peeved.
7. Apple Support is not e-mailing you. In the wake of this week’s celebrity nude-hacking scandal — and the panic over iCloud security that followed — clever phishers posing as Apple customer support have begun e-mailing users and asking them to “secure” their accounts by giving up their Apple IDs and passwords. Pro tip: No one from Apple, or any other tech company, is going to request sensitive account information by e-mail. (And if they did, it would presumably be capitalized and punctuated correctly.)
8. P. Diddy’s pineapple vodka did not test positive for cocaine. Over 34,000 people have liked this post on Facebook. We’ll just leave that one here.
Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? E-mail email@example.com — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.