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What was fake on the Internet this week: freezing squirrels, ‘Muslim gang signs’ and porn stars fighting in Ukraine

A squirrel climbs a tree on the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington. (AP)
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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. American porn star Sasha Grey was not killed while working as a nurse in Ukraine. In a story so unlikely it could only be cooked up on Russia’s  4chan equivalent, trolls claimed that Sasha Grey — a well-known former porn star — was (a) volunteering as a nurse for pro-Russian separatists on the front lines in Ukraine, (b) that she was captured by Ukrainian soldiers, and (c) that said soldiers hacked her up with an ax. (“May she be safe in heaven,” reads the Russian meme.) While the story has spread far and wide on Russian social media — particularly on Odnoklassniki, a kind of Classmates.com, and Vkontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook — there’s obviously no truth to it; Grey herself took to Twitter to shoot down the story.

Incidentally, Russian Redditors claim that this is only the latest and most prominent example of a trolling campaign they’ve been seeing for months: channers regularly edit photos of American or British celebrities to include anti-Russian quotes, which they then post on social media to rile people up. That should not sound terribly unfamiliar. We have plenty of that in the United States!

2. Frozen squirrels are not “falling from the trees” in Buffalo. As far as viral rumors are concerned, Buffalo, N.Y., is basically the North Korea of the United States. You can say anything about Buffalo during a snowstorm, and people will blindly up-vote every word. Today’s contribution comes courtesy @ImSoBuffalo, a sort of fan account for the Queen City: “frozen squirrels falling from trees,” the account wrote, in a tweet that’s circulated pretty widely.

Alas, that same picture appeared on Twitter, almost an hour earlier, on the account of a guy living in Ohio. And a student at Mercyhurst, in Erie, Pa., claimed the photo was from his area 40 minutes after that. Where did the squirrel really fall? It’s difficult to say. But wherever it was, it was a one-off incident: Even non-hibernating squirrels are really good at weathering cold temperatures, and this week’s temps — while lower than average! — are far from the lower limit of what squirrels can survive.

3. One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson is not gay. According to him, at least. But his sexuality was once again in the spotlight last weekend when a fan posted a barely audible, six-second video of the pop star saying something that kind of — sort of? maybe? — sounds like “I’m gay.” And because this is One Direction we’re talking about here, the Vine quickly wracked up 3.5 million views and almost 300,000 tweets.

For what it’s worth, Tomlinson tweeted in November that he is “in fact straight” and that he finds it “ridiculous” he even has to make a statement about it.

4. Hilary Clinton did not make a Valentine’s themed Pinterest account. As we discussed in some detail earlier this week, the Pinterest was actually an unfortunate political stunt by Sen. Rand Paul. Because it impersonated Clinton, however, and made no mention of who was actually behind it, Pinterest took the account down for rules violations over the weekend.

5. A 2014 photo does not show President Obama flashing a “Muslim gang sign.” For starters, Islam is a religion, not a gang. And the religious gesture in question — basically pointing one’s finger upward, or “Usbu al-shahada” — is made while reciting the Muslim testimony of faith, not just casually walking around. Finally, as if all that evidence weren’t yet enough, video of the event makes it pretty clear that Obama is just wagging his finger. Alas, this bit of conspiracy-mongering shenanigans has been shared 5,000 times on Facebook and has only begun to make the conservative blogosphere rounds. A scoop, for the entrepreneurial among you: Did Ronald Reagan make a Muslim gang sign, too?

Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? E-mail caitlin.dewey@washpost.com — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.

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