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 viral YouTube video does not show a naked man fleeing Buckingham Palace by a window. Counter its caption, the video shows a naked man fleeing a 17th-century house called Moor Park Mansion — a popular film stand-in for the real palace, and one of several indications the clip wasn’t entirely what it seemed. In fact, it was a promotional stunt for “The Royals,” a new series on E! — as an account associated with the show has gleefully tweeted to every outlet that covered the non-story.
2. You can’t see as many colors as a viral test made you think. An unusually viral LinkedIn post — viewed, as of this writing, more than 3 million times — purports to tell you how many color receptors you have in your eyes, and how many colors you see, just on the basis of a 30-second online screening. The screening seems to have taken off, in part, because (a) it tells just about everyone who takes it that they’re the rare and highly desirable tetrachromat, and (b) because it was published by a marketer who describes herself as an expert in “behavioral neuroendocrinology.”
But the experts on actual human vision don’t agree with her methods: Per Newcastle University’s Tetrachromacy Project, the condition is actually very, very rare — almost nonexistent, among men — and “impossible” to test on a computer screen. Derval, the “expert” who wrote the test, has since tweeted that the “test can of course not be accurate on a computer screen.” She has also not walked back her assertion that the test conclusively explains why people saw “the dress” differently — a phenomenon related not only to color perception, but to your computer’s color settings.
3. A 22-year-old activist from Cincinnati was not kidnapped and locked in the trunk of his car. Adam Hoover did, however, post a tweet and Facebook status telling people he had been and begging them to call police. The message spread widely on social media, where Internet stars, such as Tyler Oakley, RTed the call for help and the hashtag #FindAdamHoover earned more than 1,500 tweets. It appears, however, that Hoover was never abducted and that he faked the whole story. He’s since been charged with making false alarms, a misdemeanor, by local police.
4. Mattel has not released a “burka Barbie” doll. American News — a site that specializes in dubious news, of a dubiously American variety — claimed in a March 1 story that American toy manufacturer Mattel is selling a new doll, “wearing traditional Islamic dress,” to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Mattel’s 50th was actually in March 2009, so the bulletin is six full years out of date. On top of that, Mattel has never produced or sold a doll wearing a burka; pictures that seem to show such a doll are actually just normal Barbies in clothes made by designer Eliana Lorena for a one-off art auction that benefitted charity. These distinctions have not, alas, stopped more than 42,000 pitchfork-wielders from sharing American News’s story on Facebook, complete with witticisms like “does it come with a bomb vest, too?”
5. Instagram has not blocked users from posting that they’re “followers of Jesus.” A popular Christian activist sparked something of an uproar last week after claiming on Twitter that Instagram had blocked her from posting the phrase “I am a born-again follower of Jesus.” As Snopes pointed out in the aftermath, the ban is real, but has nothing to do with religion — it’s one of Instagram’s automated, keyword-based attempts at cutting down on spam. That’s because the sentence “I am a born-again follower of Jesus” contains the phrase “gain follower.” Take out the “gain,” and you’re all good! Observe:
6. Paul McCartney did not die in 1966. Serial hoaxer World News Daily Report pandered to Beatles conspiracy theorists late last week with a story that claimed the “real” Paul McCartney died almost 50 years ago, and was replaced by a look-alike so that the band could keep touring. The source WNDR cites with this big scoop — “The Hollywood Inquirer” — is, like everything else on the site, fake. This has not stopped 130,000 Beatles truthers from sharing the “news” anyway.
7. A man did not smoke vaporized semen. We won’t get too deep into this one, for obvious reasons — but suffice it to say that a widely covered viral video, since made private, was actually filmed for a documentary about viral media. That is, at least, what its creator said in a follow-up video. We’re taking even that confession very cautiously, though.
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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