Welcome back to Can’t Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
From time to time, everyone accidentally spreads a dumb hoax. It’s only human to get exposed as gullible and then walk back your claim when you realize you’ve been spreading a lie. We all save face by going, “Oh, but it was a good story.” (Oh, in newspaper slang, it was “too good to check.”) Society seems to have decided that liars are good if they’re entertaining liars. This truism was probably invented by the liars themselves—scumbags throughout history like P.T. Barnum, Charles Ponzi, Charles Dawson, and car dealers the world over.
There’s been a lot of that this week—less the political fake news I usually write about, and more old-fashioned hucksterism. Here’s what the phonies and frauds have been up to:
An Alien Mummy Was Discovered in Peru
In the video above, posted on Tuesday, no one claims to have discovered an alien. A crack team of ufologists and paranormal researchers just takes a trip to Peru to examine an otherworldly, bipedal figure that has apparently been excavated from the ruins of Machu Picchu’s Halloween store. Various experts and doctors appear to do sciencey things to it, and then at the end, someone from “Gaia,” the organization that made the video, says she’ll figure out what it is later.
Implying that the thing in the video that looks like a “gray” alien is an actual alien is the job of tabloids like Daily Mail. The headline of the Mail story asks if it’s “Proof of aliens or another hoax?” As of this writing, the video had just over a million views.
Maybe I’m being cynical. Maybe it’s worth asking if Gaia really has something here. Maybe a self-described “online streaming video service and community dedicated to providing transformational media to those seeking a fully awake and aware life” took a break from filming instructional yoga videos to make the most important discovery in the history of humanity.
A Guy Did So Much Meth He Tried to Fuck a Crocodile
Something called “The Cairns Times” ran a story on Monday claiming that an Australian man who had “binged on ice”—slang for meth—tried to have sex with a crocodile. An onlooker quoted in the story supposedly said the man “just about got it in,” before the croc took the naked man in its jaws and pulled him under the water. A version of the story wound up in the NotTheOnion subreddit, and of course it made for highly shareable Facebook posts.
Publications like The Cairns Post have debunked this story, which seems to be inspired by a 2015 hoax centered on Florida instead of Australia. But all you really need to know here is that “The Cairns Times” isn’t a news site, or really even much of a fake news site. Instead, it seems to be some kind of purpose-built repository for this one story about the crocodile fucker, which is still front and center on the homepage almost a week later. Most of the other stories are a few words long, or are just links to ads or scams.
A Lady Did So Much Meth She Ate a Baby
Speaking of hoaxes about people wilding out on meth, a story from a site called World News Daily Report has been recirculating this week about a babysitter who did so much meth she ate a three-month-old baby. World News Daily Report has a disclaimer at the bottom about the “satirical nature of its articles,” but with headlines like “Man Fresh Out of a Coma Commits Suicide After Learning Trump Is President,” it definitely looks like they they’re benefitting from too-good-to-check social media traffic.
According to PolitiFact, this story debuted on February 28, but it popped up again this week, helped along by recent traffic from Facebook groups like “The Original Deplorables” where the person who posted it claimed that the meth cannibal had obviously voted for Bernie Sanders, (The Original Deplorables have since removed their post). The story got popular enough that on Wednesday, the anti-hoax site Snopes recirculated its debunking.
This is a vintage anti-drug hoax by the way. It’s inspired by an old urban legend about hippie babysitters from the free love era doing LSD and eating babies.
Watch: People outside a Trump rally tell VICE News Tonight why they hate the media
“Breatharians” Can Live Without Food
Last week, the New York Post ran a story headline “‘Breatharian’ couple survives on ‘the universe’s energy’ instead of food.” Apparently, Camila Castello and Akahi Ricardo of Ecuador claim they’ve just had “a piece of fruit or vegetable broth” three times a week for nine years. In other words, a couple supposedly claims to be sustained by celestial forces.
Debunking something like this is hardly necessary: Living without food, or at least calories, is called “starving,” and it’s fatal. Likewise, actually being a “breatharian” is also fatal. It killed a German kindergarten teacher in 1997.
Why would anyone—even the New York Post—run with a story this stupid? CNN looked into it on Wednesday, and it turns out the story was fed to them by something called News Dog Media, a “content creation company that packages and sells tabloid-style news stories to media outlets.” News Dog’s website features testimonials from people who say they got paid to be interview subjects, and that their stories are then sold to publications like the Daily Mail, US Weekly, and the Sun.
Justifying their story to CNN, a representative of News Dog Media said, “I feel we did everything in our power to stand up the story. We’re a small freelance outfit in the UK and clearly can’t afford to fly to South America.” So that’s why millions of people read a fake story that says starving yourself is OK.
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