Pokémon Go is a phenomenon. Naturally, this means that the mobile game has inspired a parade of viral hoax stories, many of which seem to come from a single sketchy website, with connections to one of the more notorious faux news organizations on the Internet.
Cartel Press’s home page is covered in stories about Pokémon Go — some based on true events, others wholly made up. No, a teen didn’t kill his younger brother “because he thought he deleted his Pokémon.” No, Pokémon Go didn’t cause a major highway accident because some guy stopped in the middle of a highway “to catch Pikachu!” (at least, not yet). No, the Islamic State did not take responsibility for “Pokémon Go’s login problems; server issues.” Come on.
These stories are fake, but many of them aren’t outside the realm of the possible. A teen did find a dead body while playing Pokémon Go, and there are some much more credible reports of Pokémon Go-related injuries out there caused by the game, which was released in the United States less than a week ago. In Missouri, police have said that four people were targeting armed robbery victims in the St. Louis area using the augmented-reality app over the weekend.
Huzlers describes itself as “the most notorious fauxtire entertainment website in the world,” and it has perfected the art of the sensational but plausible fake story.
In a phone call on Monday, Huzlers’ founder Pablo Reyes said that Cartel Press is a new site of his, one that he hopes will be what Huzlers’ should have been. On Huzlers, the articles were written by Pablo and a friend. On Cartel, most of the articles – fake and based-in-truth alike, he said, will eventually be user-generated, and then pulled to the front page by an algorithm based on the site’s most popular posts.
Reyes said that his intention for Huzlers and Cartel is not to “trick” readers into believing fake news, but that if they do, it only helps him prove the larger point he wants to make about the mainstream media, to whom he is opposed. “Instead of going to CNN and sharing their bull—- news, you can write and share your own bull—-,” he said.
Reyes wrote the Pokemon Go articles that went viral this weekend himself, he added. His message to those who were tricked by his fake news pieces? “It’s always up to the people [to do] their own research.”
The Pokémon headlines on Cartel Press sound plausible, but the articles themselves quickly give away their own fakery to anyone who actually reads them (which, we know, isn’t how sharing news articles on the Internet works anymore).
The story about that (fake) major highway accident caused by a guy who really wanted that Pikachu has all of the specifics of an urban legend. The story carries a dateline of “Massachusetts,” and its author cites “the officer Fredrick Jones” as a source. As Snopes notes, the photo illustrating the story comes from a Colorado accident in 2014.
The made-up distracted driver, however, does have one pretty great made-up quote:
“S—, if you wanna catch them all,” the fake 26-year-old Lamar Hickson never said, “you gotta risk it all so I put my car in park and started tossing these balls.”
[This article has been updated to include an interview with Pablo Reyes]