Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. Chinua Achebe did not die this week. In fact, the Nigerian novelist died two years ago on March 22 — which was news to hundreds of Twitter users, including National Security Advisor Susan Rice. (She tweeted her sincerest condolences on Monday.) It’s not entirely clear who started the rumor, given that many involved have since deleted their tweets, but this kind of thing happens fairly often on big anniversaries. The most obvious culprit is reflexive sharing — retweeting something without actually reading it, which we all do (admit it!) all the time. At Quartz, Annalisa Merelli has another theory: People don’t know anything about Africa or literature — and want to make it look as if they do.
2. H&M is not selling neo-Nazi T-shirts. Fresh off the news that Amazon and Spotify do indeed still sell this type of material, a disturbing online rumor claimed that fast fashion chain H&M would soon offer T-shirts, pants and jackets decorated with patches for neo-Nazi metal bands.
But while the clothing items were real, the bands pictured on them were fake — and their neo-Nazi backstories were invented by a Scandinavian art collective protesting the “commodification” of the metal scene. “The purpose of the group,” one of its organizers told Noisey, “…was to create discussion on the fact that metal culture is more than just ‘cool’ looking logos.” H&M, for its part, appears to disagree: It’s still selling the “metal” clothing, and re-emphasized in a statement to Billboard that the bands pictured in the line were 100 percent fake.
3. This “photo of the solar eclipse” is (a) not a photo and (b) not of last week’s solar eclipse. Last Friday’s astronomical event was accompanied, predictably, by a flood of misappropriated astronomical “photos,” none of them more popular than one dramatic aerial image reportedly taken from the International Space Station. But as the photography consultant Jim Colton explains on his blog, the illustration actually dates back to 2009, when it was made by the Japanese artist Ryuunosuke Takeshige in a scenery-generating program called Terragen. Takeshige later posted the image to Deviant ART — from whence it spread, sans context or attribution, across the Web. “It’s extremely regrettable that my ECLIPSE was used here on Facebook without my permission,” he wrote at one point. Alas, people continue to use it every time there’s an eclipse.
4. A New York high school is not forcing its students to say the Pledge of Allegiance in Arabic. Conservative media had a field day with news out of a high school in upstate New York, where — as part of national Foreign Language Week — the pledge was read over the loudspeakers in a different language each day for a week. The fact that one of those languages was Arabic immediately sparked a firestorm both on fringe blogs (which claimed students had been “forced” to recite the Arabic pledge) and in more mainstream outlets like Fox, which called the exercise “un-American.” Lost in all this outrage, of course, is a bit of critical context: like the fact that it was part of a foreign-language exercise that also included Spanish, French and Japanese, and that students weren’t compelled, or even asked, to recite anything.
5. Michelle Obama did not shave her head. Although if you were watching “Jeopardy!” on Tuesday, you could be forgiven for thinking that she did: The first lady appeared on the game show to present a few video clues, sporting a ponytail that, in screengrabs posted to Twitter, made it look as though she’d “gone bald.” Among the theories circulated on social media: illness, a bad haircut, Illuminati messaging. The Hill reports it was actually just a case of bad camera angles and weird lighting.
6. This viral photo does not show an extra on a vintage movie set. A black-and-white photo of a blonde woman with pin-up hair rocketed to the front page of Reddit this week after its poster claimed the image showed his grandmother as an extra on a movie set. The photo was, in fact, a contemporary portrait taken from the blog of Canadian photographer Jaime Vedres and edited to look older than it is. (Vedres says the traffic to his site from Reddit temporarily brought it down.) The prankster later confessed to “karma whoring” — basically posting a picture he knew would be popular, just to rack up the upvotes. He has since started a Tumblr to record the reactions of angry Redditors.
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.
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