Hoaxes Throughout History
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In late September, actress Emma Watson gave a speech at the UN advocating gender equality. Soon after, a website ominously named EmmaYouAreNext.com appeared online. The site simply showed a countdown clock, a picture of Emma Watson wiping away a tear, and the logo of 4chan, a website popular in the hacker community whose members had recently released a collection of hundreds of private pictures of celebrities, illegally obtained. The implication was clear. Private pictures of Watson would soon be released as well. Media around the world, incuding the BBC, Washington Post, and NBC, reported on the site, and generally assumed that 4chan was behind the threat, since, after all, the 4chan logo appeared on the site. But when the countdown clock reached zero, instead of photos being released, the site redirected to Rantic, an internet marketing firm. Rantic claimed that it created the site as a kind of public-service campaign to help gain support for shutting down sites such as 4chan, thereby preventing more private pictures from being leaked. But skeptics note that the hoax served the double purpose of raising awareness about Rantic itself and its viral marketing services.
Florida resident Jasmine Tridevil made international headlines by claiming to have undergone an operation to give herself a third breast. She did it, she said, in order to make herself "unattractive to men," as well as to land an MTV reality series. She posted photos of herself in a bikini, showing off her extra breast. However, her story quickly fell apart upon investigation. She was exposed as Alisha Hessler, a Tampa-area massage therapist who had boasted on her website of being a "provider of internet hoaxes." Also, local reporters discovered a Tampa airport police report for a bag stolen from Hessler (and subsequently recovered). The report stated that the bag contained a "3 breast prosthesis."
CBC Radio's satirical This is That show ran a segment about artist Lana Newstrom who was supposedly making millions by selling invisible art. The show quoted Newstrom as saying, "Art is about imagination and that is what my work demands of the people interacting with it. You have to imagine a painting or sculpture is in front of you." The show's web page for the segment included a photo of art enthusiasts staring at blank walls in a gallery, apparently admiring Newstrom's paintings. Soon after it aired, the story went viral, fooling many people (who didn't realize This is That is a comedy show) into believing that Lana Newstrom was an actual artist and that people really were paying millions for invisible art. Although Lana Newstrom was a hoax, there is an actual history of artists exhibiting blank canvases and claiming (with tongue somewhat in cheek) that they're works of art. More…
On her wedding blog, Norwegian bride-to-be Thea Bryllupet talked about planning for her nuptials, sending out invitations, and shopping for dresses. Normal things for a young woman engaged to be married. But her blog nevertheless shocked and outraged millions of people. The reason: Thea was 12 and her husband-to-be, Geir, was 37. But before any wedding actually took place, the charity Plan International confessed that it had created the blog as a publicity stunt to focus attention on the global issue of child marriage. Thea wasn't really getting married, it assured everyone, but noted that around the world "39,000 children every day" really are forced into marriage.
In October, a viral video documented the numerous catcalls a young woman had to endure as she walked through the streets of New York City. Several weeks later, a video response (created by a different production company) showed a similar, but even more extreme "social experiment." It followed a woman as she pretended to be drunk and stumbled down Hollywood Boulevard. A series of men were shown approaching her and, taking advantage of her condition, trying to convince her to go home with them. The video soon had over 7 million views. But whatever significance the video might have had as a social experiment fell apart when it came to light that the entire thing had been staged. The men had been asked to participate and given their lines, told it was for a comedic, hidden-camera skit. The actress in the video also subsequently apologized for her participation, explaining that when she had been hired she had been told the video was for a "lighthearted prank show."

Syrian Hero Boy (Nov 2014)

It looked like a remarkable act of heroism caught on video. A young boy braves rifle fire in order to run to the aid of a girl cowering behind a burnt-out truck. With bullets still flying around them, he pulls her to safety. The video, titled "Syria! Syrian HERO BOY rescue girl in shootout," was viewed over 5 million times in a matter of days, and provoked enormous debate. However, many skeptics questioned the authenticity of the video, noting that the boy appeared to be shot near the beginning, but then got up and continued on, as if unhurt. The skeptics were right. Within a few days, the filmmaker, Lars Klevberg of Oslo, stepped forward. He had filmed the video on a movie set in Malta. He explained that the reason he disguised the video as genuine footage from the conflict in Syria was that he wanted to generate discussion about children in war zones.
The rumor at New York's Stuyvesant High School was that 17-year-old student Mohammed Islam was a financial genius who had made $72 Million in the stock market. This might have remained just a high-school rumor, except that New York Magazine got wind of it and arranged an interview with the young whiz kid. Over a lunch of caviar and apple juice, "Mo" Islam told reporter Jessica Pressler that he had already rented an apartment in Manhattan, bought a BMW, and planned to start his own hedge fund. Pressler seemed impressed. In her subsequent article, headlined "A Stuyvesant senior made $72 million trading stocks on his lunch break," she said the rumor of his wealth "seemed legit." Naturally, such a remarkable story attracted attention, and that's when it all began to unravel. Faced with the prospect of telling his rags-to-riches story in front of TV cameras, Mo Islam panicked and admitted it was all a lie. The reality was he hadn't made a cent. He had never even traded real stocks, only simulated ones as part of an investment club. More…

Ladyball (Jan 2016)

On January 13, 2016, an advertisement began circulating on social media promoting the "Ladyball," which was a soccer ball boasting a "high gloss pink exterior," said to be "specially designed for a lady's game" on account of its softer texture and lighter weight. The product quickly met with anger, disbelief, and derision. Disbelief turned out to be the appropriate response, as a few days later Ladyball was revealed to be a spoof created by the Ladies Gaelic Football Association in partnership with the Lidl supermarket chain. Their goal, they said, was to change the fact that women's sports often aren't taken seriously. More…
Lyst, a fashion shopping site, announced that it had begun selling dogs — as fashion accessories. It encouraged shoppers to "find the right dog to match your wardrobe." An online gallery displayed 33 breeds of dog "from petite XS puppies to oversized companions." The announcement generated angry responses on social media, as well as quite a bit of skepticism. And sure enough, a day later the company revealed it was all a hoax, designed to promote the message that "a dog is for life, not just for Instagram." More…
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