When our grandparents ask us what to do about the Nigerian prince who won’t stop bothering them for cash, most of us are smart enough to gently let them know there probably isn’t African royalty in trouble who specify sought them out because, well, we are very internet savvy. However, not every internet hoax is as easy to decipher.
We’ve all been victim to reposting an article only to have to sheepishly delete it later when we realized we clicked too soon and forgot to take a quick trip over to Snopes to check our work.
Here are some of the most viral internet stories that turned out to be big fat hoaxes. (If you accidentally shared any of them, don’t worry, we won’t tell)
This shark photo has been around. It seems to circulate after every major hurricane: you’ve probably seen it pop up after Harvey or Irma or Sandy. But it’s definitely not really paddling it’s way through a Houston interstate, or any interstate for that matter. The shark photo is manipulated, a combination of a real photo of a flooded highway and a photo of a Great White shark from Africa Geographic.
In the photo the shark is superimposed from, a much bigger shark follows a man in a kayak. And this one is the real thing!
You’ve probably seen this one on Twitter or Facebook, a lottery winner named Shane Missler (just one example of several) hits it big and has decided to share a percentage of their winnings with whoever reposts their post or tags someone else in it. You’ve probably seen people sharing a post like this with a message like “hey! It’s worth a try!” Well, it’s not. Shane really did win the lottery, but he’s not sharing it with strangers. Lottery winners generally aren’t going to give away their winnings to random strangers on the internet, sadly, so you’ll just have to win the lottery on your own.
In a viral photo that has been circulating online for the last few years, a tourist stands atop the World Trade Center. In the background, you can see a plane flying below him, about to hit the tower. The photo is dated 9/11/2001. Posts often stated that his camera was found in the rubble of the towers and when the film was developed, someone discovered this photo of his last moments.
First of all, September 11, 2001, was a warm day. It was still summer in New York so there’s no reason someone would have been wearing winter clothes. But more importantly, the photo itself is impossible. The plane shown in the photo is an American Airlines Boeing 737 which isn’t the same plane that actually hit either of the Twin Towers. Also, there was no observation deck open at the time of the terrorist attack, so there’s no way a tourist could have been taking photos on one.
Anthony Bourdain and others shared this photo of the Trump sons looking pretty goofy. But if you look closely, you can tell something is a little off. The photo is actually manipulated, despite the Getty Images watermark.
A few weeks ago a Twitter user posted a segment that was supposedly from a book about Trump, claiming he thought there was something called “The Gorilla Channel”. The truth is, Trump was never fooled into thinking gorillas had their own channel. The tweet was meant to be satire, and followers of the account likely knew this, but once it started widely circulating out of context, the intent was lost and people thought it was real.
This photo was everywhere: a shot of Steve Bannon with blood dripping from the corners of his mouth and dribbling onto his shirt. Steve Bannon always looks, um, kind of rough, so it isn’t actually that hard to believe his lips would just start bleeding at any moment. But this particular photo is actually altered by The Onion for a satire article they ran on Bannon, so it’s fake.
Tweets like this one implied that downtown Miami was completely flooded during Hurricane Irma. While there was extensive damage done to Miami, this particular tweet is misleading. It’s a real video, but it’s not a video of a street, it’s a video of a river, which as we all know are already made of water.
A few years ago this photo was circulating online along with a description of camel spiders, a spider the size of a cat, that could run 25 miles per hour, had a deadly venom, and laid their eggs inside the stomach of camels. These wild claims are pretty scary, but not true.
The photo shows the spiders from close up, making them appear huge. Camel spiders are real, but they are actually much smaller than the photo makes them look (about five inches in diameter). They also can’t run at amazing speeds or jump onto the belly of a camel. They aren’t even poisonous nor are they even spiders! They belong to the order solifugae, and are kind of somewhere between scorpions and spiders.
A few years ago this photo was making the rounds. It shows a massive dog next to his owner and a horse and claims it is the largest dog in the world, an English Mastiff named Hercules. As much as we may want to see a dog an adult human can ride, this photo is manipulated, this dog is not really this huge and also, not even an English Mastiff. It’s actually a Neapolitan Mastiff (like Fang in Harry Potter!) and while they do get very large, like over 150 pounds large, they don’t get horse-sized.
During the 2016 election, a quote by Donald Trump was going around that said “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They are the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up.” This is a fake quote. He never said this to People Magazine. Trump’s said a lot of dumb stuff, but this isn’t one of those things.
People were very upset when this photo of a Fisher Price Happy Hour Playset started circulating. It’s definitely not a completely appropriate toy for children, although, come on, you’d buy it. Unfortunately you can’t because it was a joke made by comedian Amiri King that people took seriously.
In May of 2016 a young boy fell into a gorilla enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. A gorilla named Harambe picked him up and started dragging him around. Keepers were forced to shoot the gorilla to save the boy. After his death, Harambe became a huge internet meme, internet users called for justice for the dead gorilla. After awhile, it mostly became an annoying ironic thing to get attention.
This is, of course, not true. As annoying as the internet was about Harambe, they did not collectively decide to write him in for president. While some people may have written in the gorilla as a joke (although it seems like a big waste of time to stand in line at a polling station just to make a joke you can maybe never even actually prove you made), those write-in votes likely would never have been counted in the first place. Most states don’t count write ins unless the person being written in has already submitted paperwork and many states don’t allow write ins at all.
According to a story that was going around social media, a woman tried to steal a tube of cookie dough from a Wal-Mart by putting it inside her vagina and the tube popped open. This was a fake news story published by a website designed to look like a real news website, and nothing about it is true.
Recently a movie trailer went around Facebook claiming that a Friends movie was being released this year. The trailer featured all of the actors interacting with each other and they were much older than they were on Friends, so it did seem kind of real. But there was something off about it, none of the scenes really seemed to make narrative sense together.
Some clever person took a bunch of scenes from TV shows and movies that happened to star a few of th cast members and cut them together to make it look like a movie trailer. Scenes from Episodes and Cougartown were used to create the trailer.
In 2006 a vlogger named Bree started posting YouTube videos under the username lonelygirl15. They started out normal, a girl talking to her webcam, but slowly over time she began to reveal that her parents had trapped her as part of a cult. It turned out that the whole thing was fictional and all of her video posts had been scripted by a production company. A pretty cool idea, actually, especially considering by the time the hoax was revealed, her channel had over a million viewers.
In 2012 JS Dirr posted an emotional post on Facebook: his pregnant wife Dana had died in a car accident, not long after one of their 10 children was diagnosed with cancer (again). Support poured from every corner of the globe for the family. Except there was one problem: his wife wasn’t dead. Actually, she didn’t exist. Neither did JS or any of his 10 children.
Emily Dirr was 23 years old when the hoax was discovered, but she’d been posting about the fake Dirrs since she was 11. She’d made over 71 profiles for the family and their friends on Facebook. She had set up funds for people to donate to cancer charities in their honor. She’d even sent out wristbands honoring one of the Dirr sons to supporters. It was all a lie, and Emily was diagnosed with Munchausen by proxy, or in this case by internet, a condition in which people make up or create illness in another person to get attention.
Is Kid Rock really running for senate? All signs would point to no, seeing as his campaign website is only a link to an online store where you can buy Kid Rock for Senate merchandise but people definitely believed it was real. Kid Rock eventually admitted it was just a promotion for his upcoming album.
Several fake websites designed to look like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, The Washington Post and more declared that the Washington Redskins were changing their name to the Washington Redhawks. It was an elaborate hoax.
In October 2017 rumors circulated widely on social media that Melania Trump, in a particular press event, did not look like herself and was actually being played by a body double. This was false, and it turned out the person who started it probably just had a bad TV that made Melania look strange.