Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. Argentina’s president did not adopt a Jewish boy to save him from becoming a werewolf. In a classic example of magical realism, magical thinking, or some combination of the two, many an English-language media outlet reported this week that Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, became the godmother of the seventh son of an Argentinian Jewish family in accordance with a local legend that says such kids become werewolves. This would be quaint, in a Garbriel Garcia Marquez kind of way, but Argentinian historians say it has no basis in fact: The Argentinian president has become the honorary godparent of seventh children since the early 20th century, when the custom was imported from Czarist Russia. In its current, codified iteration, “Padrinazgo Presidencial” is open to boys who are the seventh consecutive son in a family, or girls who are the seventh consecutive daughter; the children can apply to the president’s office for the designation, which comes with a medal and the possibility of financial aid or mentorship. The legend of the lobizon, or werewolf, is totally unrelated. Notably, Argentinian accounts of the incident make no mention of the lobizon; it would appear that little tidbit was picked up in translation.
2. A planetary alignment will not cause you to become “weightless” on Jan. 4. This obviously bunk astronomical hoax has circulated with amazing regularity for 40 years, playing on either our general ignorance of all things space or a special kind of New Year’s wish fulfillment. (Who needs a diet when you can be weightless?!) This year’s iteration started on Daily Buzz Live, an unabashed and well-established fake-news site, before racking up more than 1 million shares on Facebook. For future reference — because there is, unfortunately, little doubt this hoax will go viral again — the physics of “Zero G Day” make zero scientific sense, and the entire story is based on an April Fool’s joke an astronomer made … in 1976. Alas, you will have to lose “weight” the conventional way.
3, That wildly viral video of a homeless man buying food for others was actually a set-up. How does a homeless man spend $100? We still don’t know, apparently, as two witnesses claim a feel-good viral video of the same name was actually staged. In the video, which has been watched a mind-boggling 29 million times since Dec. 22, YouTube prankster Josh Paler Lin claims to give $100 to a homeless man and secretly film him as he spends it — not buying booze, as Lin predicted, but spending the money on other people.
Unfortunately, as heart-warming as this would be, a man who saw the filming told Vocativ that the whole thing was very clearly staged; later the “homeless man’s” brother, who lives in California, told local news that his brother is actually pretty well off. To further complicate things, someone is making a lot of money off this video: An Indiegogo campaign to “help Thomas get a fresh start” has already made more than $130,000. No word yet on whether Indiegogo will investigate or refund donor’s money, but in the meantime: Ban YouTube pranks.
4. The Sony hackers did not threaten CNN. An anonymous message posted to the site Pastebin, allegedly by the so-called “Guardians of Peace,” promised to hack CNN if the network didn’t hand over Wolf Blitzer — and sparked a hyper-vigilant response from the FBI, who reportedly sent a warning bulletin to a number of media outlets on Dec. 24. Anyone can post anonymously to Pastebin, however, which is kind of the site’s appeal. And in this case, an occasional homeland security blogger named David Garrett Jr. is claiming to have done it: “It was a joke … I had no idea it would be taken seriously,” he tweeted. One would think that a prankster with a homeland security background would be a little wiser than that — but hey, what do I know.
5. The North Korean government is not on Twitter. Despite evidence that North Korea Internets like it’s 1996 — seriously, do we think this computer runs Twitter? — many a media outlet ran, gleefully, with the exposure of a “government” account tweeting sternly worded statements from the DPRK. The satirical account, @DPRK_News, is actually the work of a libertarian blogger, who has used it to hoodwink reporters and amateur North Korea-watchers since 2009. Fox, Slate and the Huffington Post were all forced to issue corrections after the account showed its true colors shortly before Christmas.
6. Eminem is neither gay nor giving out $5 million on Facebook. Yes, Eminem did “come out” during a short cameo on “The Interview,” otherwise known as Kim Jong Un’s least favorite film. But because this apparently requires repeating, both to the Dear Leader and the gullible Internet-users of the world, “The Interview” is one big joke: Eminem was kidding when he said he was gay. As for Eminem’s big $5 million Christmas Day giveaway, the facts surrounding that are even sketchier: The scam “contest” was announced on a new, unverified Facebook page that does not belong to Eminem and that has since disappeared. Alas, those origins did not stop 50,000 people from liking the post within a few hours, nor did it stop Eminem from shooting up Google’s trending topics as millions of confused people searched his name. To set the record straight: Eminem — not gay, not giving away money on Facebook. But Illuminati? We can’t say.
7. Niall Horan is not leaving One Direction. Teenage girls panicked — PANICKED, I tell you — over tweets sent from two British media accounts last weekend, claiming spiky-haired heartthrob Niall Horan was leaving the band. He’s not, of course; both @SugarScape and @YahooCelebUK claim they were hacked by a mean-spirited hoaxster … who almost had teen blood on his hands, apparently.
8. Hugh Hefner is not dead, the Big Mac is not discontinued, and Bobby Shmurda was not in a jail-cell knife fight. These stories originated on NBCnews.co, Daily Buzz Live, and Huzlers, respectively; all three are reliably unreliable. Hefner is, for the record, 88 years old, McDonald’s sells an estimated 17 Big Macs per second, and rapper Shmurda is serving time for a felony gun charge.
9. Beware Facebook promises of new AirAsia news. Phishing scams pegged to major tragedies crop up on Facebook with depressing predictability — and AirAsia is no exception. In essence, these scams promise some never-before-seen breaking news video or photos in exchange for your e-mail address or other personal information.
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.