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!
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. Basketball’s Lamar Odom is not dead. On Tuesday, former Los Angeles Laker Lamar Odom collapsed at a Nevada brothel, the apparent result of consuming a substance marketed as “herbal Viagra.” While Odom is in a coma and in critical condition, however, he hasn’t actually died. That rumor began on TMZToday.com, a celebrity hoax-news site. (As of this writing, the fake article has been shared more than 200,000 times.)
2. No one saw the “Jersey Devil.” (Because the Jersey Devil does not exist.) Just in time for Halloween, two New Jerseyans claim to have spotted the state’s mythical beast: a kangaroo-like creature with a goat’s head, horns and huge, leathery wings. Dave Black sent a photo of the beast to NJ.com; Emily Martin followed up with a (mysteriously dark) video. Internet skeptics quickly called their bluff: the wings in the cellphone video aren’t moving fast enough for flight, and the photo would appear more blurred if the “devil” was flying in that low light.
It’s also worth pointing out, perhaps, that historians believe they know the (very non-supernatural) origins of the Jersey Devil myth: Brian Regal, a professor at Kean University, has traced it back to political infighting among local Quakers in the 17th and 18th centuries. In a nutshell, someone made the creature up and said he was born to an enemy family.
3. Drinking black coffee is not actually a sign of psychopathy. The headlines were frightening for those of us who drink (or know people who drink) their coffee black: According to a new study, they claimed, “black coffee drinkers are more likely to be psychopaths.” But if you actually read the study in question, that claim seems … pretty weak. That’s because of two decisions the researchers made in shaping their methodology.
First, everything was self-reported — the researchers asked participants to assess their own tastes in food and, through a series of vague personal statements, their own personalities. (Self-reporting is notoriously unreliable: Even the non-psychopaths among us are not very good at describing themselves accurately.) Second, the researchers never actually had anyone taste the foods in question — they just answered surveys about (a) whether they did or did not like certain foods, some of which were bitter, and (b) how much they liked bitter flavors generally. Their answers on the two surveys didn’t match up. In other words, people were evaluating questions about their taste for bitter things without actually knowing what bitter things taste like.
If all that wasn’t convincing enough, the study never concludes anything about coffee in particular: just about bitter tastes, in general. And even then, the correlation is not terribly substantial. To paraphrase Slate’s L.V. Anderson, the whole affair proves less about taste and personality than it does about how much we love to obsess over “the ostensible dangers of coffee.”
4. Syrian refugees did not refuse food and water because it came from the Red Cross. Since late September, a video filmed in Bicske, Hungary, has been making the right-wing blog rounds: In the words of one chain e-mail, it purportedly shows refugees throwing out food and water because they were marked with the Red Cross logo, “a Christian symbol,” and were not “certified halal.”
If you watch the video in question, however, you won’t see red crosses anywhere. That’s because the people distributing the food are local Hungarian police, and the video originally appeared on a police channel. As for why some young men threw away the water and sandwiches they were given, it appears to have far more to do with politics than with religion. Hungarian police posted the clip Sept. 5 — days after a lengthy stand-off at the Bicske train station, where police tried to divert an Austria-bound train. Migrants on the train refused to offload to a “reception center;” police, meanwhile, refused to let the train continue on, though its passengers had paid. As the hours wore on, police handed out food, the German site Deutsche Welle reports; but many refugees refused, concerned there could be sedatives in the water. At least one man died during the stand-off.
5. Philip Rivers did not kill a bird on live TV. But you could forgive the confusion, honestly: In a clip from Monday’s Chargers vs. Steelers game, widely circulated on Twitter and Vine, Rivers punches something out of the air — something small and bird-like.
As Mashable has helpfully debunked, however, that little grey thing is not a bird. It’s Rivers’ glove, which he threw and then punched (?), for some reason. Apparently that’s a thing people do.
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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