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 pumpkin-spice products. 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. Justin Bieber really is that big. Justin Bieber’s campaign for Calvin Klein made quite a stir on the Internet late last week: first because of the images themselves — and later, over allegations that Bieber had been dramatically Photoshopped to make him look both more muscular and, er, well-endowed. But it would actually appear, in fairly typical Internet fashion, that the “unretouched photos” making the rounds were, in fact, unflatteringly doctored versions of the original ads. The site that published them, BreatheHeavy.com, hastily apologized and took them down when Bieber’s legal team threatened to sue. The singer’s camp has also offered up other photos of him in various states of undress, apparently to prove he really does look that good. We get it, bro: You work out.
2. Chipotle did not stop selling pork because of Muslims. About a third of Chipotle’s U.S. locations did pull carnitas from menus this week — but it had absolutely nothing to do with any cultural or religious sentiment. As reported extensively by The Washington Post and other outlets, Chipotle is having problems with one of its pork suppliers. Naturally, the existence of objective facts has not stopped some Islamophobes from drawing their own conclusions.
People are blaming Muslims for Chipotle not serving pork anymore lol pic.twitter.com/gtAFM80K1J— Roqayah Chamseddine (@roqchams) January 14, 2015
3. No one “doubts the authenticity” of the Charlie Hebdo attack. (Well, some crazed conspiracy theorists do — but that’s old hat.) In a more disturbing and sophisticated case of Internet hoaxing, a Web site titled bbc-news.co.uk surfaced earlier this week pushing a story on an “investigation” into the Charlie Hebdo massacre’s “authenticity.” While the site looked exactly like the actual BBC — and users on Reddit and Twitter shared it as if it was — it has no relation to the British news service, whose real URL is bbc.co.uk. The BBC-fake has previously published hoax stories on Cicada 3301 and extremism in Britain; the computer security firm OpenDNS has linked the site to a state-sponsored media outlet in Iran, and theorized that its operators may have been trying to spread malware.
4. Three-on-three basketball is not an Olympic sport. An obscure Australian satire site called the Betoota Advocate fooled a couple hundred readers — one of them, a reporter for the sports site Deadspin — with a far-fetched story about the Olympics adding three-on-three basketball just in time for the 2016 games. As Deadspin’s Kyle Wagner put it on Wednesday, however, shortly after publishing an article on the subject: “Nah, this isn’t happening. I wrote a post based on a satire website, which is just about the dumbest way to [mess] up. Sorry … Woulda been cool though.” This may be the crowning achievement of the Betoota Advocate, which previously brought you gems like “MH370 and Air Asia mysteries trigger worldwide shortage of tinfoil.”
5. “Rantic Marketing” struck again. The trolls behind Rantic — an agency that sells fake social media followers and inserts itself into every possible Internet controversy — struck again this week with a Web site, OpCharlieHebdo.com, that claimed to represent an Anonymous hacking campaign. The hacktivist collective did, indeed, launch an effort to crowdsource information about the Charlie Hebdo attackers, and the group has allegedly brought down several extremist Twitter accounts and Web sites over the past few days. But the OpCharlieHebdo site — which was shared some 50,000 times on social media — had no relation to that campaign: It now redirects, predictably, to Rantic’s site. This was also Rantic’s playbook when the agency set up fake sites for Emma Watson’s nonexistent nudes and a fictional NASA discovery; basically any time you see a mysterious, viral “countdown” site, Rantic’s maybe/probably to blame.
@RanticMarketing I am sure it was with good intentions you involved yourself in our operations, but please, keep your corporate fingers off.— anonpanda (@RealAnonpanda) January 11, 2015
6. There is no Rita Ora sex tape. A woman who looks vaguely like the pop star did, however, recently film a porn video under Ora’s name; the film was purportedly watched more than 80,000 times in its first day online.
7. President Obama did not wear an “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirt to a Congressional ceremony. That story — and its accompanying, badly Photoshopped picture of the president — originated on The Daily Currant, which is (must we repeat this?!) an inveterate fake-news site. This did not, alas, stop more than 70,000 people from sharing the story on Facebook, a testament, perhaps, to exactly how politicized and emotional the debates about race and police brutality have become.
Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.