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What was fake on the Internet this week: Sam & Nia, Trump’s New Mexico fence and Selena’s killer’s death

Sam & Nia “responding to the haters” in a YouTube video posted Aug. 14. (YouTube)
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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. Donald Trump does not want to build a fence around New Mexico (… or, at least, he’s never said he does). A little-seen, month-old story on the hoax-news site National Report surged to sudden virality this week after Trump announced his official immigration plan. Said plan includes a number of truly extraordinary measures including new fees on legal immigration, an end to birthright citizenship, and the construction of an immigrant-funded wall but it does not include any mention of fencing out “the rapists and murderers and drug dealers … you have there in Santa Fe.”

For future reference, oh 90,000 gullible souls who shared this particular item, the stuff on National Report is ALWAYS fake. We’ll give them this much, though: As reality inches ever closer to satire, their take on the genre is definitely getting funnier.

2. The woman who killed Selena wasn’t killed in jail. Vengeful fans of the singer Selena slain by an ex-employee, Yolanda Saldivar, in 1995 were disappointed to learn that, counter to an online report, Saldivar is actually still alive. United Media Publishing, one of the newer click farms to grace the hoax-news scene, published a story Monday claiming that Saldivar was found dead in her cell. Since then, the story’s been shared nearly 150,000 times … even though the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has unequivocally confirmed that the 54-year-old is doing just fine.

This, is, incidentally, the second time a Saldivar hoax has gone viral in the past year; in December, our friends at National Report claimed, in a story shared well over 700,000 times, that she could be released early because of a health condition. Hoax sites tend to recycle ideas that work, so assume you’ll see this one again.

3. An obese woman did not starve her children half to death so that she could eat more. This dramatic story of abuse and neglect made the Facebook rounds this week: Reportedly, police in Baton Rouge entered a home after seeing two malnourished kids scrounging for food in the yard, discovering five more starving kids, a combative mom and a ton of locked-up food. Alas, everyone seems to have shared this shocking bit of reportage without checking the source: It’s from Now8News, a prolific hoax site, and it’s not even original. NewsWatch33 was peddling this one, minus one kid, only a month ago.

4. That map you saw on Facebook doesn’t actually show what America looked like pre-colonization. On Aug. 14, a New York woman named Aisha Noelle posted an intriguing map to Facebook: It showed the U.S. divided up into a series of territories named for Native American tribes, and described what she called “America before colonization.” Noelle also wrote that she had “never seen this map in my entire 25 years of formal education,” an omission she attributes to school curriculum that downplay or denigrate Native Americans.

While that may be a legitimate complaint,  it has absolutely nothing to do with why she’s never seen the map. As Snopes explained  Tuesday, the image is a work of speculative fiction that originally appeared on the subreddit /r/ImaginaryMaps. Apparently none of the 360,000 people who shared it were tipped off by the inclusion of the current date, just right of Florida, or the things they did actually learn about Native Americans in U.S. history class.

5. A Christian vlogger’s extremely viral miscarriage announcement was “staged” — in a manner of speaking, anyway. I hesitate to even include this particular item, as there will likely never be any conclusive answer as to whether it was fake. But it’s impossible to ignore the online brouhaha that’s been brewing since a pair of married Christian vloggers posted, in quick succession, (1) a pregnancy announcement, (2) a miscarriage announcement and (3) an announcement that husband Sam Rader had quit his job to make confessional videos like (1) and (2) full-time, as a profession.

Aside from the very odd timing of the videos and the Raders’ apparent thirst for online fame (“WE’RE GOING VIRAL!!” they posted, after announcing the pregnancy, and “our tiny baby brought 10M views” after announcing the miscarriage), viewers have noted several other hiccups in the Raders’ story. Buzzfeed spoke to several doctors, for instance, who said the unreliable pregnancy test method the Raders’ used was likely to produce false-positives; the hospital where Sam Rader worked also told the site that, counter to video No. 3, he never actually quit. On top of all that, the Raders stand to make a lot of money from each of these videos — they are, for instance, running pre-roll ads on their miscarriage announcement and its 4.6 million views.

Meanwhile, the Raders themselves insist it’s all genuine: “A lot of people think it was staged,” Sam recently said. “I’m like, you know what? It was staged. It was all orchestrated by God above and nothing else.”

So what are we, as truth-seeking Interneters, supposed to make of all this? Personally, I’m concurring with Sam: The video was definitely staged, whether or not the miscarriage actually, factually happened.

Okay, I get it: That’s probably not the clear-cut answer you wanted. But there’s a bigger issue to remember here: Vloggers and all other self-made, fame-seeking viral stars are very savvy about staging the parts of their lives that we see. Even if it appears that they’re being very tearfully honest and confessional — and certainly, the medium gives us that impression — they’re still performing, basically. Details get left out or played up, timelines get fudged: It’s no different from reality TV. That doesn’t mean Sam and Nia’s pregnancy was “faked” — but it does make all of their stories, and stories like theirs, a little too staged to be taken literally.

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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