Hoax Museum Blog: Social Media

Fake Ed Asner tries to help Pittsburgh cinema — Yet another example of a celebrity imposter masquerading online. In this case, the imposter evidently thought their deception was for a worthy cause. Nevertheless, it's still a deception.

Fake Ed Asner Endorses Struggling Dormont Theater
CBS Pittsburgh

The Facebook post from the fake Ed Asner page reads "Help the Hollywood Theater! One of Pittsburgh's last historic neighborhood cinemas. I have found memories of visiting this venue as a much younger man while visiting relatives. I'll double every donation!" Theater manager Chad Hunter was excited but skeptical when he saw the post. He tried sending a thank you message to Asner via the social media website but never heard back. That's when he got suspicious. A representative for "Charles Sherman Public Relations" who represents Asner says the page is fake and that the actor has never had a Facebook page.

Posted: Fri Feb 08, 2013.   Comments ()

The Perennial Return of Future Day — In the 1989 movie Back to the Future Part II, Marty McFly and Doc Brown use the time-traveling Delorean to travel from 1985 to October 21, 2015. In the movie, this date is briefly seen displayed on the car's onboard time monitor. So Oct 21, 2015 is officially "Future Day," when Marty McFly will arrive in what will then be the present.

But people don't want to wait that long, so hoaxers keep setting "Future Day" to a date closer at hand. The first time this happened was in 2010, when Total Film magazine mistakenly declared July 5, 2010 to be Future Day — and then created a fake image to back up their claim. They meant it as a joke, but a lot of people took it seriously. (telegraph.co.uk)

More recently, Simply Tap (makers of a mobile checkout app) declared on Facebook that June 27, 2012 was Future Day (they were promoting a box set of Back to the Future DVDs), and they also created an image to back up this claim, which once again began to circulate online. (slate.com)

So the real Future Day is still three years, but that seems like plenty of time to fit in a few more fake Future Days before it finally arrives.

(Thanks, Joe!)
Posted: Thu Jun 28, 2012.   Comments (2)

Pepsi Moonvertising Hoax Fools Thousands in Iran — On Saturday (June 9) thousands of Iranians stood outside on rooftops looking up at the moon. They were there because of a rumor spread by email, websites, and social networks promising that Pepsi was going to project its logo onto the surface of the moon. The rumor was false. Link: observers.france24.com

Some Iranians got their revenge by drinking Coke. Others created Pepsi-moon parody videos and images.

There's a bit of history to the idea of ads projected onto the moon. Back in 1999, Coca-Cola actually considered the idea of using lasers to project a Coke logo onto the moon. The idea was dreamed up by one of their marketing executives, Steve Koonin. They hired scientists to put the plan into effect, and spent quite a bit of money before abandoning the idea. The problem: It would have required incredibly powerful lasers to do it, and the FAA wouldn't allow the use of such powerful lasers because of the possibility they might interfere with aircraft.

Then, in 2008, Rolling Rock beer ran a hoax campaign claiming that they were going to project the Rolling Rock logo onto the moon during a full moon, on March 21, 2008. They promoted the idea on billboards, in TV ads, and through the website moonvertising.com (which they've since abandoned).

The NY Times ran a brief article about the hoax campaign in which they touched on whether moonvertising would be technically possible:

According to Jim Garvin, the chief scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, moonvertising is possible, if impractical for a number of reasons. While scientists have bounced lasers off the moon, they illuminated an area only about the size of a tennis court. “In order for an advertisement to be seen by people on earth,” Garvin says, “the laser light would need to cover an area about half the land size of Africa,” a challenge because the moon’s surface is dark and fairly nonreflective.

Iran itself also has a history of moon-image hoaxes. Back in November 1978, a rumor swept through Iran alleging that the face of the Ayattullah Khomeini was visible on the moon. This rumor has been analyzed in a paper by Shahla Talebi:

In late November of 1978, as millions of Iranians awaited for the return of Ayattullah Khomeini form exile, a rumor swept the country that his face could be seen in the moon. In great excitement, many gathered on the rooftops to show one another what they “saw.” Although the rumor was officially denied, it had had already acquired millions of legs, and thanks to technology, it soon reached almost every corner of the country. It had taken a life of its own. The emotional ambiance of that particular night of “seeing” was so immensely intense and the claim so unwaveringly firm that those who “could not see” said otherwise.

And let's not forget a similar rumor that spread in America a few years ago, which got thousands of people to stand outside, holding candles, and looking up at the sky. It was following 9/11. The rumor promised that a NASA satellite was going to take a photograph of the entire nation illuminated by candlelight.

Edit: I just remembered another moon rumor, one which I discuss in Electrified Sheep. Back in 1957, a rumor spread that the Soviets were going to explode a nuclear bomb on the surface of the moon on November 7, and that the flash would be visible on Earth. This date was supposedly chosen both because it was the 40th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution and because a lunar eclipse was going to occur then, making the flash more visible. This would have been a form of 'moonvertising' on the part of the Soviets. A way for them to display their technological superiority on a canvas visible to the entire world.

There was near hysteria in America as the date approached. When the day arrived, many astronomers trained their telescopes on the moon, waiting for the flash. But it never came. The Soviets probably would have done it, if they could have, but at the time it was beyond their abilities.

There are some intriguing parallels between the 1957 Soviet Nuke rumor and the 2012 Iranian Pepsi-logo rumor. In both cases, people were projecting their fears onto the surface of the moon. In 1957 America, the challenge posed by Soviet power and the spread of communism was the great fear. For Iranians in 2012, American corporate power and global dominance is their great fear.

From the Freeport Journal-Standard, Nov 6, 1957

Posted: Wed Jun 13, 2012.   Comments (3)

How Abraham Lincoln Invented Facebook (a hoax) — On Wednesday, Nate St. Pierre posted an interesting story on his blog. He detailed his discovery of an attempt by Abraham Lincoln in 1845 to create and patent a social-networking system that very much resembled Facebook. Only it was an all-paper version of Facebook, and Lincoln didn't call it Facebook. In his patent application he supposedly called it "The Gazette," and he described it as a system to "keep People aware of Others in the Town."

He laid out a plan where every town would have its own Gazette, named after the town itself. He listed the Springfield Gazette as his Visual Appendix, an example of the system he was talking about. Lincoln was proposing that each town build a centrally located collection of documents where "every Man may have his own page, where he might discuss his Family, his Work, and his Various Endeavors."

Lincoln created a sample Gazette page (below) for himself, to show the patent office what he was talking about. St. Pierre commented how much it resembled a Facebook status page because it included a picture of Lincoln in the top left, and then had columns in which Lincoln discussed various details of his life. For instance, in one column Lincoln described his great enjoyment at visiting P.T. Barnum's circus.

And this is where St. Pierre's story falls apart, historically speaking. Because Barnum didn't own a circus in 1845. (He had his New York museum, at which he was perpetrating hoaxes such as the Feejee Mermaid exhibition.) Nor did the technology exist in 1845 to include a photograph on a newspaper page. Daguerre had only announced his invention of photography in 1839, and there was no way to make multiple copies of daguerrotypes, short of taking a photograph of the photograph, which meant the quality degraded with each reproduction.

The reality is that no part of St. Pierre's story is true. Lincoln never submitted a patent for a 19th-century version of Facebook. The story is pure historical fantasy. Though that hasn't stopped over 16,000 people from sharing the story on Facebook. (And one suspects a good percentage of those people might have thought the story was true.)

For those interested in real history, the nineteenth century did produce some social-networking innovations that definitely were the distant predecessors of Facebook. The penny press, introduced in 1835 1832, was the most important of these. As the name implies, the penny press was simply the idea of selling newspapers at the cut-rate price of a penny each. This made papers cheap enough to become a mass-market commodity, hugely increasing their readership. Like Facebook, the penny papers were full of local gossip and news. They pioneered the concept of "personal ads" placed by individuals. They relied heavily on advertising for their income. And the owners of the most successful penny papers became filthy rich. I go into quite a bit of detail about the penny papers in my article on the Great Moon Hoax of 1835.
Posted: Thu May 10, 2012.   Comments (1)

The Great Twitter Girl-In-A-Noodle Hoax — Over the weekend, on Saturday night, @chicagobars posted this tweet:

Word immediately began to spread around Twitter that someone was trapped inside the giant noodle sculpture across from Wrigley Field.

Half-an-hour later, @chicagobars posted an update.

It all seemed quite plausible. People could imagine how it might occur to a drunken reveler to crawl inside the noodle and then get stuck inside. So the news was retweeted and re-retweeted, magnified in the great Twitter echo chamber.

Until finally @chicagobars admitted the truth. There was no girl trapped inside the noddle. It had all just been a joke. The giveaway was that the name "Jessica Morales" was an allusion to Baby Jessica, who fell down a well in 1987.

And it turns out it wouldn't have been possible for anyone to get trapped inside the noodle anyway. Both ends of the noodle are sealed shut. (link: Red Eye Chicago)
Posted: Tue Apr 17, 2012.   Comments ()

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy vs. Gorgeous Guy — If you follow internet memes at all, you're going to be aware of 'Ridiculously Photogenic Guy'. The title has been attached to 25-year-old Zeddie Little of New York. A picture of him was taken while he was running a 10k race in South Carolina. He seemed to look upbeat and well-composed, while everyone else looked like they were suffering. Someone uploaded the picture to reddit, with the comment, "My friend calls him 'Mr Ridiculously Photogenic Guy'". The image and title promptly went viral, making Little an overnight internet celebrity.

Ridiculously Photogenic Guy

This immediately reminded me of the Gorgeous Guy phenomenon, from way back in 2001, in which a guy's picture was uploaded to San Francisco's Craiglist with the comment, "Gorgeous Guy @ 4th and Market at the MUNI/Amtrak Bus Stop (Mon-Fri)." The Gorgeous Guy's picture soon went viral, resulting in the real-life Gorgeous Guy being tracked down and invited to appear on CNN, The Tonight Show, etc.

Gorgeous Guy

The punchline of the Gorgeous Guy story, however, was that his initial burst of internet popularity turned out to have been artificially engineered. David Cassel of the San Francisco Bay Guardian discovered that the initial flood of messages promoting and gushing about the "Gorgeous Guy" all traced back to the same IP address — which was the address of the company where Gorgeous Guy worked. Cassel suspected that Gorgeous Guy had been promoting himself, though Gorgeous Guy himself insisted it had been his co-workers playing a prank on him.

There's absolutely no indication that Ridiculously Photogenic Guy's popularity was artificially goosed up in any way. In fact, Zeddie Little seems to be trying his best to avoid his unasked-for celebrity status. But it is odd how these internet memes echo and repeat themselves.

Incidentally, after I wrote about the Gorgeous Guy incident in the book version of The Museum of Hoaxes, Gorgeous Guy contacted me, and I continue to get updates from him every few years. Last I heard, if I remember correctly, he was working as a real-estate agent somewhere.
Posted: Mon Apr 09, 2012.   Comments ()

Ghetto Hikes — The author of "Ghetto Hikes," which is a twitter feed and accompanying website, offers this description of it:

I'm 28. I have a full time job leading urban kids (of all races) on nature hikes. I simply write down shit they say.

It's kind of obvious that it's a parody in the style of "Shit My Dad Says," but the Village Voice confirms it isn't real:

Looks like Ghetto Hikes is a parody account -- and an unfunny one at that. According to a just-released tweet, Men's Humor and Ghetto Hikes were registered by the same person.

The most surprising thing about Ghetto Hikes is that it has over 430,000 followers!

Posted: Fri Feb 24, 2012.   Comments ()

CLOO: The Socially Networked Toilet — The brilliant (or incredibly stupid) idea behind CLOO is to use social networking to make it easier to find somewhere to pee in big cities. The CLOO website explains:

CLOO' is based on one simple truth— we all have to pee. Though in urban cities finding a clean, available restroom is difficult & frustrating. That’s where CLOO' comes in.

CLOO' is a community of registered users who choose to share their bathrooms and make city-living easier, while earning a small profit. Using social media connections, CLOO' shows what friends you have in common with the host, turning a stranger’s loo into a friend of a friend’s loo.


It's one of those concepts that raises so many problematic issues that you have to wonder whether it's real or just a joke. And people have been asking this question on twitter. To which CLOO responds that they're "quite real".

I suspect CLOO is meant to be taken seriously. There have been other strange toilet ideas that turned out to be real. Remember the Microsoft iLoo?

However, in an interview with CNET the people behind CLOO — Hillary Young and Deanna McDonald — admit that they have no funding to take their concept out of a prototype stage. Which makes its reality status a moot point. (Thanks, Bob!)
Posted: Thu Sep 08, 2011.   Comments (3)

Moms Behaving Badly — A dispute between two young girls escalated into an online fight between the mothers. The mother of one of the girls posted an ad on Craigslist offering sex with men, and listed the phone number of the other girl's mother as the contact. Twenty-two people called the number. The woman has now been charged with aggravated harrassment. [Newsday]
Posted: Mon May 11, 2009.   Comments (2)

Tila Tequila Not Dead — You can breathe a sigh of relief. Tila Tequila is not dead, despite the "tweet" posted on her twitter account claiming that someone had broken into her house and killed her and her dog. Seems that someone had hacked into her account. I have no idea who Tila Tequila is. I'm guessing she's some kind of D-list celebrity. [binside]
Posted: Tue Apr 14, 2009.   Comments (3)

Twitter Premium Services — An article that ran on the satire site BBSpot has apparently fooled some Twitterers. It claimed that Twitter was going to begin charging for "premium" services as follows:

* Sparrow ($5/month) – Users get 145 character limit, 5 extra random followers.
* Dove ($15/month) – Users get 160 character limit, 25 extra random followers, 1 random celebrity follower, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" T-shirt.
* Owl ($50/month) – Users get 250 character limit, 100 extra random followers, 2 random celebrity followers, 30 minutes on recommended list, auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" hoodie.
* Eagle ($250/month) – Users get 500 character limit, 1000 extra random followers, 3 celebrity followers of their choice, 5 hours on recommended list each month, Twitter Concierge for Tweeting while user is asleep or busy (and more), auto-spell check, "Fail Whale" tuxedo, custom "Fail Whale" page when service is down.

News of the premium services quickly made its way to Twitter. PCWorld reports "At least half all current tweets about the 'news' are still treating it seriously."
Posted: Fri Mar 20, 2009.   Comments (3)

Love in the age of Facebook — It's hard to tell how much of this story is genuine. Stuart Slann supposedly learned the hard way part of the truth of the old joke that on the internet the men are men, the women are men, and the children are FBI agents. In Stuart's case, Emma, the woman he thought he met on Facebook, was actually two guys playing an elaborate prank on him. Apparently they lured him into driving nine hours to meet Emma in Aberdeen, and then they revealed the truth to him.

And since this is the age of YouTube, the pranksters also created a video (now widely viewed) to celebrate the humiliation of their victim.
Posted: Mon Feb 16, 2009.   Comments (6)

The Dalai Lama Twitters and then is gone — February 1: The Dalai Lama joins the micro-blogging service Twitter and starts posting updates, which soon almost 20,000 people are following.

February 9: Twitter announces that the Dalai Lama's account is a fake and cancels it. This explanatory message was posted on the Twitter blog:

One of the essential doctrines of Buddhism is Impermanence. The word expresses the notion that everything we can experience through our senses is in flux, constantly changing, and ceasing to be—nothing is permanent. Is there some meaning, therefore, in the sudden disappearance of a Twitter account thought to be the official account of The Office of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama?
There may be a higher meaning if you meditate enough but the account was suspended because it violated our Terms of Use regarding impersonation. Using Twitter to impersonate others in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others is also cited in the Twitter Rules. Should His Holiness decide to take up Twittering for real, we'll be sure to Follow.

I have a Twitter account, but I never use it. I can't figure out what the point of Twitter is, especially for people who already have a Facebook account. (Thanks, Cranky Media Guy!)
Posted: Tue Feb 10, 2009.   Comments (4)

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