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What was fake on the Internet this week: the paracetamol challenge, Tinder causing STDs and human trafficking at Hobby Lobby

“Acetominophen” is the the American word for paracetamol. Kids aren’t overdosing on it for social media laughs, after all. (AP Photo/Johnson & Johnson)
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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. Overdosing on Tylenol is not the latest teen social media craze. Don’t listen to what the British tabloids or Facebook alarmists say: Whenever you hear about a ~crazy~ social media challenge, go straight to social media to see whether it’s fake. Despite all the moral panic about the so-called “paracetamol challenge,” only 25 people have posted Instagrams about it. And of the 4,000 people who have tweeted on the tag, virtually every one looks like this:

(Answer: yes.)

2. Chocolate does not actually help you lose weight. This week in truly disappointing news, a team of gonzo science journalists revealed on i09 this week that they, and not a German diet institute, were behind a blockbuster “study” on chocolate’s weight-loss properties. The paper, which appeared in the International Archives of Medicine earlier this year, was widely covered by European and American media. That was, incidentally, the point: as John Bohannon explains on i09, he and his German co-conspirators invented the trumped-up and very obviously flawed study to make a point about how the reporters cover science research, specifically around obesity and dieting. Point taken, I guess: Lots of people fell for it.

3. Tinder and Grindr are not causing a surge in HIV, syphilis and other STDs. A startling array of media outlets linked hook-up apps to STDs this week, citing a report by the Rhode Island Department of Health which directly “blamed” the apps for a “an epidemic of sexually transmitted disease.” If you actually read Rhode Island’s report, however, that’s not at all what it says. It’s actually a pretty routine update on statewide STD data, with one momentary reference — in the fifth paragraph! — to social media. Observe:

The recent uptick in STDs in Rhode Island follows a national trend. The increase has been attributed to better testing by providers and to high-risk behaviors that have become more common in recent years. High-risk behaviors include using social media to arrange casual and often anonymous sexual encounters, having sex without a condom, having multiple sex partners, and having sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

In other words, Tinder and Grindr (which aren’t even named) are one of many factors believed to be influencing higher STD rates in the state. Rhode Island did not actually study or confirm that theory, and they certainly didn’t quantify it. In the grand scheme of things, it’s probably not that big of a deal: In its latest annual report on national sexual health, the CDC found that STD rates are really only going up among gay and bisexual men. You don’t see them blaming Grindr for it.

4. A human trafficking ring is not targeting Hobby Lobby shoppers in Oklahoma City. On Tuesday, a Facebook user named Emily Stringer posted a disturbing warning to the site: She had been followed around a local Hobby Lobby by a seasoned female kidnapper, whose accomplice was waiting in a semi truck outside. Such traffickers, she claimed, are actually pretty common in OKC — a bit of news so frightening that it’s since been shared by more than 140,000 people, both in and outside the city.

Fortunately, while Stringer was telling the truth about her experience at the Hobby Lobby store, there seems to be a bit of confusion — or miscommunication — as to why this woman was following her. Stringer’s husband John explained to The Post that, when his wife initially called Oklahoma City Police to report the weirdness at Hobby Lobby, the officer on the line suggested it was related to trafficking. But after Stringer warned her friends on Facebook — and the report spread much more widely than both she and the officer intended it to — a police investigator interviewed Stringer formally and filed an incident report, disavowing the trafficking conclusion.

“It does not appear that this incident had anything to do with human trafficking,” a spokesman for the department said, adding that they were not aware of any other, similar trafficking cases in the area.

For what it’s worth, the department may also want to caution its officers against giving out information on the phone that could spread to social media — and take on a life of its own.

5. A planetary alignment will not cause apocalyptic earthquakes/storms this weekend. At the end of April, a Dutch New Age organization called Ditrianum Media published an alarming, 24-minute video to YouTube: On May 28 and 29, it claimed, the alignment of several planets would trigger a “massive earthquake” — of the kind foreseen by Nostradamus in the 16th century. The video has since been watched by more than 1.6 million people, despite the incontrovertible, scientific fact that planetary alignments do not have enough gravitational pull to cause any effect on earth. If that doesn’t convince you, here’s further reason to give Ditrianum some side-eye: When its founder isn’t forecasting the end of the world, he’s channeling “cosmic messages from various sources,” including aliens and archangels.

6. This viral YouTube clip does not show the “Muslim world” hating on Obama. More than 300,000 people have watched this “clip” from Egyptian TV, in which politicians slam Obama for “never working a day in his life” and having biceps “smaller than my eight-year-old daughter.” But the video isn’t actually taken straight from Egyptian TV: It’s a mash-up of many different clips, from different newscasts, with fake English subtitling. The account that posted the video, iPhoneConservative, actually makes that pretty clear — he disclaims right in his intro that the video is an example of Poe’s Law, a type of Internet parody.

“The outrageousness, I thought, would be self-evident,” he wrote. “Obviously my reference to Poe’s Law was not enough.” (Nope!)

7. Neither of these photos shows a flooded Houston. Ignoring all the stunning true photos that came out of this week’s Texas floods, a few pranksters have circulated images on social media that are, well … anything but. One photo of Houston’s highways underwater has been retweeted more than 1,700 times; it’s actually from 2001, in the wake of Tropical Storm Allison.

Meanwhile, the Houston station KHOU was briefly fooled by a screengrab from the film “Jurassic Park;” they have since removed the photo from this article, but not before a sharp-eyed Redditor called them out.

8. “Chemtrails” are still not a thing. Sorry, Kylie Jenner, but the “white stuff” you see planes “spraying” into the sky is actually just engine exhaust freezing at a high altitude. This theory conspiracy has been debunked roughly 1 billion times since the late ’90s, and continues to be untrue.

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

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