Hoaxes Throughout History
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The paintings of a new abstract artist, Aelita Andre, were featured at a Melbourne exhibition, alongside works by established photographers Nikka Kalashnikova and Julia Palenov. The art critic for The Age noted that Andre's works were "credible abstractions, maybe playing on Asian screens with their reds... heavily reliant on figure/ground relations." But Andre (who was Kalashnikova's daughter) was only 22-months old. The museum had not been aware of this when it agreed to exhibit her work. Nor had The Age's critic known this when he reviewed it. Aelita's mother said she simply wanted her daughter's work to be judged on its merits. [TheVine]

Balloon Boy (Oct 2009)

On October 15, 2009, millions of people sat glued to their TVs, watching a silver, saucer-shaped balloon float through the sky. The media was reporting that a six-year-old boy, Falcon Heene, was inside the balloon, in danger for his life as it drifted out of control. After several hours, the balloon landed a few miles from Denver International Airport, but the boy was nowhere to be found. There were fears he had fallen out. Thankfully he was alive. The entire time he had been safe at home, hiding in a room above his family's garage. The incident turned out to have been a bizarre hoax engineered by his parents, Richard and Mayumi Heene, in an... More…
The author of the "Gay Girl in Damascus" blog identified herself as a lesbian named Amina Abdallah Arraf living in Syria. Over the course of three months, her blog gained a sizable following by offering an insider's account of the Arab Spring. Then a post on her blog reported she had been arrested by government forces. But amidst the expressions of concern for her safety, doubts were raised about her identity. No one had actually met her, and the photos of her on the blog were discovered to be of someone else. A week later, a 40-year-old American man studying for a masters at Edinburgh University, Tom MacMaster, confessed that he was really Arraf.
AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. released a study revealing that Internet Explorer users scored lower on IQ tests than users of other web browsers and were therefore "dumb". This result was duly reported as fact by numerous news outlets, including CNN, the BBC, NPR, CNET, and Forbes. However, not only was the study fake, but also AptiQuant wasn't a real company. The staff photos and information on its site had been copied from the site of a legitimate French firm. The hoax was the work of Tarandeep Gill, a Canadian web developer, who later said he had hoped to "create awareness about the incompatibilities of IE6." [wikipedia]
George Edwards, skipper of a Loch Ness tour boat, produced an image of a dark hump in the water. He claimed that the photo had been examined by a team of US military experts, who declared there was no doubt it showed an "animate object." But a little over a year later, Edwards confessed the photo was a fake. It actually showed a fiberglass hump created for a 2011 National Geographic documentary, "The Truth Behind the Loch Ness Monster." Edwards was unrepentant about the hoax, arguing that people come to Loch Ness for "a bit of fun" and not "for the science" — and that hoaxes such as his own helped to bring them there.
On the night of Sunday, August 26, 2012, 44-year-old Randy Lee Tenley stepped out onto U.S. Highway 93, just south of Kalispell, Montana, wearing a "Ghillie" suit (the kind used by snipers for camouflage). He was promptly hit by a car in the southbound lane, and then was hit again by a second car. Tenley died from his injuries. His friends told the Highway Patrol that he was wearing the suit in order to "incite a sighting of Bigfoot, to make people think they had seen a Sasquatch." It's not known if this was Tenley's first attempt at a Bigfoot hoax. However, dispatchers said they had received no recent reports of Bigfoot sightings. [nbcmontana.com]
Melba Ketchum, owner of a Texas veterinary laboratory, announced on Nov 24, 2012 that, after a 5-year study of purported Sasquatch tissue samples, she had determined that Sasquatch was a human hybrid species that arose approximately 15,000 years ago. But when the article with her data appeared 3 months later, it was underwhelming. Her article appeared in the Denovo Journal of Science which, it turned out, was owned by Ketchum. In fact, her article was the one and only paper ever published by the journal. Skeptics noted that it appeared Ketchum had simply analyzed contaminated samples of human DNA. [Skeptical Briefs]

Hank (2014)

Rick Dyer (the same Rick Dyer responsible for the 2008 Bigfoot in a Freezer Hoax) announced he had killed an 8-foot Bigfoot in Texas. He called it Hank. After declaring that a university had DNA-tested the creature and found it to be an unknown species, Dyer took the body of the creature on tour in early 2014, charging people to see it. But after a few months his tour encountered problems, and he posted a rambling confession on Facebook, revealing that Hank's body was a prop made of latex, foam, and camel hair.
A crop circle was discovered in a barley field in Chualar, California, near Salinas. The pattern of the circle resembled a microchip. Small dots inside the circle spelled out the number 192, in braille. Also, three large dots on the outer perimeter of the circle were positioned at the clock-hand positions of 1, 9, and 2. The mysterious circle attracted global attention, but within a week it was revealed to be a marketing stunt created in order to promote a new mobile processor by NVIDIA — a processor with 192 cores (thus the references to 192). The CEO of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsun Huang, admitted to the stunt during a presentation in Las Vegas.
A photo was widely shared on social media with a caption claiming that it showed a "Syrian boy sleeping between parents' grave." But in fact, nothing about the photo was as it seemed. The photo was taken in Saudi Arabia, not Syria. The mounds of pebbles weren't actually graves. And the boy was only pretending to be asleep. The shot had been staged by a photographer as a conceptual art project. The boy was his nephew. The false caption was traced to a Syrian opposition leader who had added it when tweeting the photo. More…
A viral news story claimed that, due to the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Philip Morris had decided to start selling Marlboro Marijuana Cigarettes, marketed under the brand name "Marlboro M." And since only the advertisement of tobacco products (not marijuana) was banned in the United States, the company had supposedly set aside a huge $15 billion advertising budget to promote the new product. In reality, the story originated from a "satirical" fake news site, Abril Uno. The false story echoed an urban legend popular in the 1960s, alleging that the big tobacco companies were eagerly anticipating the day when pot would be legal, and that many of them had already registered names for their planned marijuana cigarettes. More…
When Japanese composer Mamoru Samuragochi went completely deaf at the age of 35, he continued to compose music, explaining that he was able to do so because of his "absolute pitch." He composed some of his most popular works while deaf. On account of this, he was often referred to as the "Japanese Beethoven." But in February 2014 it came to light that all the music attributed to Samuragochi since 1996 had actually been ghostwritten by Takashi Niigaki, a part-time lecturer at the Toho Gakuen School of Music in Tokyo. Nor was Samuragochi deaf. He was merely slightly hearing impaired. He had been faking deafness in order to enhance his mystique. [New Yorker, Wikipedia]

The Sochi Wolf (Feb 2014)

During the Winter Olympics in Sochi, US luger Kate Hansen posted a video to YouTube and Twitter showing a wolf wandering the halls in the dormitory where she was housed. The video quickly went viral. There had been many reports and complaints about the numerous stray dogs loose in the streets of Sochi, so it seemed somewhat plausible that a wolf might have gotten into the dormitory. However, the footage turned out to be a hoax by the late-night comedian Jimmy Kimmel (with Hansen's assistance). His crew had built a replica of an Olympic Village dorm in their LA studio, then shot footage of a wolf wandering through its hallway. The wolf was actually a rescued North American timber wolf named Rugby that Kimmel's crew had hired.

HUVr Board (Mar 2014)

The future seemed to have arrived when a video ad appeared online announcing the invention of the world's first working hoverboard — just like the one famously featured in the 1989 movie Back to the Future II. The floating antigravity "HUVr board" was supposedly created by a team of MIT physics graduates. Particularly noteworthy was the number of celebrities in the video shown riding the board, including Moby, Tony Hawk, Terrell Owens, and Christopher Lloyd (who played Doc Brown in the Back to the Future movies). Their presence gave a veneer of believability to the otherwise fantastical invention. The video quickly racked up over 12 million views on YouTube and generated enormous speculation about whether the HUVr board could possibly be real, or if it was all some kind of publicity stunt (and if so, for what?). Within a few days the mystery was solved when comedy website Funny or Die admitted to being the creative team behind the video, which they explained as simply a prank. Skateboarder Tony Hawk apologized to his fans for his participation in the prank, noting that he "thought it would be obvious that it was fake, but a lot of people believed it." More…

Gay Village (June 2014)

A Dutch real estate company announced plans to develop a utopian "protected" community specifically for gay people on the north side of Tilburg. It would be named "Gay Village." The company said it had come up with the idea after seeing research showing that 22% of gay men didn't feel safe in their own neighborhood. The concept immediately generated controversy, with many denouncing it as a "gay ghetto". But a day later, the gay rights organization Roze Maandag (Pink Monday) admitted it was the mastermind behind the plan, which was all a hoax designed to highlight the problem of homophobia and "create awareness." [guardian]
Edinburgh police went out to investigate after receiving a report from someone who had been browsing Google Street View and spotted what appeared to be a murder on a city street recorded by the Google car's camera. In the street view scene, a man lay face down on the ground as another man holding an axe-handle stood over him. But when the police arrived at the scene, they thankfully found the victim still alive, and happily working with his "murderer" at a car repair shop. The two explained that, back in August 2012, they had noticed the Google car coming down the street. So, on the spur of the moment, they staged a fake murder scene for the benefit of the camera. The images of the "murder" made it onto Google maps a few months later, but it took more than a year before someone noticed the scene and reported it to the police.
The Internet went into full outrage mode after Kelly Mullins posted on Facebook that her 3-year-old granddaughter, Victoria, had been asked to leave a Kentucky Fried Chicken in Jackson, Mississippi because her facial scars, caused by a recent dog attack, "scared the other diners." "Does this face look scary to you?" the furious grandmother asked. KFC's Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, prompting the embarrassed company, as a gesture of goodwill, to pledge $30,000 to help fund Victoria's ongoing medical costs. More than $100,000 in donations was also given to the family by members of the public. However, subsequent investigation found no evidence that the family had ever been in the KFC where the incident supposedly occurred. Footage from the surveillance cameras showed no sign of them on the day in question. KFC said that, no matter, it stood by its offer of financial support. Young Victoria's family, for their part, continued to insist that the incident really had taken place.

Jeremy Meeks (July 2014)

Jeremy Meeks (aka 'hot mugshot guy'), an inmate who gained fame online because of his attractive mugshot, was alleged to have died an hour after his release from jail. Police were said to have found him lying in the middle of a road in Central Stockton with knife and gunshot wounds, apparently inflicted by his wife with whom he had been arguing. In reality, Meeks had not been released from jail. The source of the story, which spread widely via social media, was a fake-news site, huzlers.com.
A fake news story that circulated on Facebook alleged that actor Sylvester Stallone died "in a horrible car accident" because "his driver was drunk did'nt saw truck". The post about his death led to a page that urged users to click a 'play' button to view video footage. The page (and story) were clickbait attempting to trick users into divulging personal information. The photo of a crashed car was totally unrelated to Stallone. It actually showed a scene from a 2013 accident in Beatrice, Nebraska that killed a 53-year-old man.
Star USC football player Josh Shaw was hailed as a hero when he explained that he injured both his ankles after leaping from a second-story balcony to save his young nephew from drowning in a pool. USC was so impressed that it issued a press release detailing his heroics. For a moment Shaw was a national hero. But his tale quickly soured when a police report from the night of his accident placed him at his girlfriend's apartment where neighbors reported hearing screaming as well as seeing a man that looked like Shaw jumping from her balcony. Shaw confessed that his heroism tale was a lie. But exactly what he was doing that night remains unknown. More…
A picture of a "pumpkin spice" condom supposedly soon-to-be offered by Durex went viral, accompanied by the tagline "Because safe sex is important, no matter what season it is." Given that Durex has a line of "Taste Me" condoms that come in the flavors banana, strawberry, orange and apple, a pumpkin spice flavor didn't seem all that ridiculous. But Durex soon threw cold water on people's hopes by tweeting, "We've heard talk that we launched a Pumpkin Spice condom. We can't claim this one, but we do love it when people spice it up in the bedroom." The faux pumpkin spice condom turned out to be the work of web developer Cosmo Catalono who created the image as a joke, in response to an online conversation about the proliferation of pumpkin-spiced products. He didn't intend people to think it was real, but when the image went viral it took on a life of its own.
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