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. Yelp is not suing “South Park” and Comedy Central for defamation. Welp, our old friend Paul Horner has struck again: The longtime hoaxer, a veteran of National Report and Super Official News, penned an entirely fictional story last week about a buzzy $10 million lawsuit — and got a whole lot of news outlets to buy in.
Horner’s story, which claimed the lawsuit was inspired by the Oct. 14 episode of “South Park,” included three major tip-offs that it was fake: (1) It referenced “Fappy the Anti-Masturbation Dolphin,” another of Horner’s creations; (2) It made Horner himself a character in the story, as all of his hoaxes do (he appears in the second paragraph as a Yelp spokesman); and (3) the story appeared on nbc.com.co, one of a proliferation of knock-off news sites to come to the fore in recent months. Horner himself owns several of them.
Given all these signs, how did so many legitimate news outlets — including the San Francisco Business Times and the Week — fall for the stunt? It appears that Google News may have a role to play in this one: for several hours, the news aggregator picked up Horner’s fake article and credited it to the real NBC News. That tool is driven by algorithms whose exact function is closely guarded by Google, so it’s hard to say exactly how that happened. Horner is just glad that it did.
2. Donald Trump did not tell People magazine that Republicans are dumb. A meme circulating on Twitter and Facebook claims that the Donald dissed voters in a 1998 interview: “If I were to run, I’d run as Republican,” it claims Trump said. “They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country.”
While Trump was indeed a People fixture in the late ’90s — his name appeared in it 27 times in 1998 — he never detailed his political ambitions with the magazine. The closest we could find was a Christmas 1998 article in which Trump said he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. He also said that he’d like Oprah to be his running mate, which is pretty funny.
3. The CDC did not tell people to avoid the flu shot this year. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises just the opposite: Everyone older than 6 months should have the shot. But in a frightening demonstration of exactly how dangerous hoax news can be, more than 90,000 people have shared this claim the flu vaccine doesn’t work, isn’t safe — and that the CDC admitted as much in recent days.
For the record, these claims appear in the fringe health site “Vibrations of Health,” and are sourced to a year-old video from the alternative news outlet “The Next News Network.” (N3’s executive director also believes the U.S. government runs secret concentration camps for political dissidents — he’s been profiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center for it.)
While last year’s flu vaccine was less effective than usual, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work. The flu virus is a constantly evolving organism that varies from year to year, and so do the vaccines that protect against it. Last year, a particularly common strain of the flu virus mutated, or “drifted,” away from the version that the vaccine was formulated for. (It still protected against several other strains.) The CDC does not expect that to happen this year, and has published a detailed guide to who should get the vaccine and how it works.
4. A man (probably) didn’t discover his wife was cheating on Snapchat. A series of incriminating Snapchats have been making the Internet rounds, appearing everywhere from the Daily Mail to Complex to Elite Daily: A woman was snapping her husband some sexy pics, the story goes, when he noticed a pair of men’s boots in the background and accused her of cheating.
We can’t be totally sure this one is fake — I mean, Snapchat divorces do happen — but the fact that the photos originated on The Chive are enough to raise suspicions. The site has a record of viral hoaxes, including the recent story about a couple finding $50,000 in a safe in their floor. We’ve contacted the company that owns The Chive and will update if we hear more.
5. A man did not commit suicide over the black character in “Star Wars VII.” More than 100,000 people have shared this story from obvious hoax-site NewsWatch33, which claims a 53-year-old North Carolina man killed himself over the whole #BoycottStarWarsVII thing. NewsWatch33 is not a legitimate news source, which you’d hope people could figure out from the glitchiness of the site itself and the proliferation of ads for “ridiculously dirty photos.”
6. While we’re on the subject of “Star Wars,” though, it’s also worth pointing out that the “trending” hashtag #BoycottStarWarsVII was actually a fringe echo chamber started by a few racist trolls.
7. And while we’re on the topic of NewsWatch33, it is also not true that a woman was arrested for “trying on tampons” at a Walmart store. In the past two weeks, versions of this story have appeared not only on NewsWatch33, but on the (affiliated?) hoax sites Daily Media Buzz and Now8News. The story’s racked up more than half a million shares between the three, despite the fact that it’s — ugh — patently untrue.
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.
Liked that? Try these: