Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. Michelle Obama’s grand decision not to wear a headscarf in Saudi Arabia was actually neither grand nor terribly decisive. As it turns out, Western women and American officials historically have not worn veils when visiting that country. Over at Vox, Max Fisher blames the hype — which was high-pitched, and wall-to-wall for a couple days — on racism and misunderstanding re: the Middle East. Let’s attribute it, more forgivingly, to a certain tendency to read lots of meaning into a few, nonrepresentative tweets.
Saudi has millions of Twitter users. When a few hundred of them talk about something, that's not a backlash. It's hardly a flicker.— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed) January 28, 2015
While we’re on the subject of Michelle’s recent trip, let’s note that her face was not blurred out on Saudi state television. A popular YouTube clip that shows a blurred bar over the first lady was apparently edited in after the footage aired; people watching within the country have said the blur effect did not appear on TV.
2. Two Peruvian men weren’t tricked into catcalling their moms. A concerning YouTube video that shows two young men unknowingly whistling at their madeover moms turns out to be not so unknowing … and thus, not so concerning! The clip, which aired in Peru in November, went viral in the United States this week after someone added English subtitles and uploaded it to YouTube, where it’s since gotten more than 3.5 million views. As the original video makes very obvious, however, the clip was an ad filmed for Everlast, a women’s fitness brand, and both the men and moms were paid actors. (It’s a “false documentary,” as one Everlast spokesman put it.) Alas, neither this fact nor the video’s strong stance against catcalling have prevented the YouTube comments section from dissolving into a pit of Spanish-language misogyny.
3. Gene Hackman is not dead. In a fairly typical and aggravating case of Internet readers failing to engage in actual reading, hundreds assumed the actor Gene Hackman had died after scanning a headline on a recent Grantland piece: “The Greatest Living Actor at 85: Gene Hackman is Gone but Still in Charge.” That headline wouldn’t seem to leave much room for ambiguity — it does after all, say “The Greatest Living Actor,” as in, he’s alive — but we can’t leave this kind of thing to chance, apparently. Grantland has changed the headline, and prominent RIP tweeters, including the actor Dylan McDermott, have since apologized.
4. Ship Your Enemies Glitter may have been a “stunt,” but it certainly wasn’t a “hoax.” Let’s begin with a little vocab lesson that a certain smug Observer writer apparently missed: a stunt is a thing done for attention; a hoax is a thing that is deceptive and fake. Some hoaxes may be stunts, but not all stunts are hoaxes. And while ShipYourEnemiesGlitter.com may have been the former, its creator did actually send people glitter for a fee. In other words, the site was real — and no one lapsed in sense or ethics or journalistic judgment by discussing it that way. (As a side note, if everything on the Internet that’s made to be seen is now suddenly a fake, then this whole enterprise is just a rolling ~fantasy land.~ Even this column. Especially this lukewarm take.)
5. A man did not divorce his wife because her lover hid under her bed. Ugh, okay, I admit it: Even I clicked into this clickbait-y piece of viral garbage when it surfaced this week in my Facebook feed. According to ViralNova, one of many sites circulating the image, zooming in reveals a man’s face under the bed — a man with whom, the story goes, the photographer’s wife was cheating. There is, of course, no remote evidence that is the case: a reverse photo-search makes it clear the picture’s been circulating social media with different backstories for years. It’s also worth noting that the “wife” in the picture looks like she’s about 15.
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.