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. A Catholic priest did not have a near-death experience and meet a female god. The story of John Michael O’Neal’s big revelation originated on World News Daily Report, the inveterate fake-news site that previously brought you the “40-pound baby” hoax. That is not particularly interesting or unusual, but — as Craig Silverman explains over at Digg — how the fake story went viral is. Apparently the story originally published into the void … until a real newspaper in Uganda plagiarized it. At that point, dozens of media outlets around the world ran their own versions, often referring back to the Ugandan paper’s “reporting.” That paper has not revised its story, though a spokesman for the Archbishop of Boston confirmed to England’s Metro.co.uk that it was “rubbish.”
2. These photos do not actually compare global school lunches. Photos of a very sad American lunch tray beside beautiful, healthful dishes from Brazil, South Korea and Spain are not actually representative of what kids in those countries eat: It was all part of a Sweetgreen marketing campaign. The salad chain explains on its Tumblr that the photos “are not intended to be exact representations of school lunches,” just portrayals of “foods found in cafeterias around the world.” People have, alas, hijacked the photos to make some kind of political point. (Which seems kind of absurd, frankly: Given Greece’s economic crisis, I doubt they’re serving stuffed grape leaves and fresh pomegranates in their public schools.)
3. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were not charged with “aiding” terrorists in Egypt. Several right-wing blogs ran juicy stories this week claiming that the Egyptian government was pressing charges against Obama and Clinton for their involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood — a divisive Egyptian political party much-loathed by American conservatives. The reports, needless to say, were patently untrue. (If the leader of the free world was indicted on terrorism charges, don’t you think someone would report on it?!)
Instead, they seem to have originated from a year-old post on the blog of Walid Shoebat, a conservative author and blogger who claims to have converted to Christianity after spending several years as a terrorist in the Middle East. The “sources” Shoebat refers to in his report are no longer online, and the conclusions he draws about Obama and Clinton are just that — his conclusions, based on convoluted conspiracy theories with no basis in the text he quotes from. For what it’s worth, Shoebat’s critics have long accused him of inventing his conversion back story to sell books and “spew … prejudice and bigotry.”
4. One of Gamergate’s most terrifying trolls was actually a “comedian.” Jace Connors, the bizarre YouTube personality who claimed he crashed his car while driving to the house of a female game developer, was … actually a fictional character! In a truly alarming story earlier this week, Buzzfeed unmasked Connors as the sketch comedians Jan Rankowski and Sam Hyde, who said the whole thing was intended as a satire of Gamergate. (This seems like a good time to review the definition of satire.) Rankowski has, fortunately, been forced to sign a contract that said he wouldn’t make any more videos in this vein.
5. A group of South Africans did not prowl Cape Town chopping “top knots” off of other dudes. A video that purports to show a comedy troupe called Derick Watts and the Sunday Blues cutting unsuspecting men’s hair has, since Feb. 18, earned 5.5 million views. After receiving a flood of negative feedback, however, the group posted a follow-up video, apologizing and admitting the whole thing was staged. They later told a local radio station they just wanted to put South Africa “on the map” — the map of what, they don’t say.
6. Macklemore did not join the Islamic State. It’s probably safe to say that most of the 4,400 people who tweeted on the #MacklemoreJoinedISIS hashtag were kidding, trolling, or something in between. But at least a couple gullible fans seemed to fall for a mocked-up tweet in which he admitted to joining the terrorist group. The tweet purportedly came, as these things usually do, from the fake-tweet site “Let Me Tweet That For You.” Among other things people have fake-tweeted there lately: Kanye talking about Tyga and Hugh Hefner loving on Hostess Twinkies.
Wow #MacklemoreJoinedISIS I cannot believe this guy— Coachella Moses (@SlimiHendrix) February 20, 2015
7. This “one weird trick” will not tell you your cellphone’s “name.” Per a popular message making the Facebook rounds, if you type the last three digits of your phone number into the comments’ field … Facebook will correct it to your phone’s “name.” This is fun but, alas, has no basis in reality. Facebook’s just reading your digits as a profile ID number, and translating them accordingly.
8. Neither Mark McGrath, nor Willie Nelson, NOR Beyonce, is dead. This week’s unclever celebrity death hoaxes are brought to you by dumb publicists, a fake news site, and Twitter trolls, respectively.
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.
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