By Yashi Banymadhub and Adam Chapman
In a digital age that demands immediacy, the internet can be invaluable for fishing out stories fast. However, with journalists tirelessly trawling the web for the next big break, fact-checking can fall by the wayside and even the best journos can be fooled. Here are six glaring examples where the internet has won and the journalist has lost:
The selfie shoe
If social media has taught us anything, it is that we are all narcissists seeking social validation. Right?
So, the selfie shoe seems like an entirely plausible concept. If the selfie stick wasn’t enough for you, the selfie shoe facilitates that darn awkward process of attempting to take a picture of yourself from your footwear. Although it probably has legs, sadly it was nothing more than an April Fools hoax disseminated by shoe company Miz Mooz. This did not stop USA Today and Yahoo running with the story. Yahoo even blindly acknowledged how “coincidental” it was that the story had emerged on April Fools’ Day.
The three-breasted singleton
What would you do if you wanted to ward off men? Grow a third boob, naturally. In September 2014, Jasmine Tridevil (aka Alisha Hessler) from Florida made headlines when she claimed to be the first woman to have a third breast fitted. Her reason? She was sick of dating men and wanted to make herself unattractive.
Pictures of Ms Hessler’s unusual mammary glands were picked up by national newspapers and more. The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and Huffington Post all posted images of the masseuse sporting three-cup bikini tops. Her fraudulent bosom was eventually detected by German TV network RTL, who used a thermal camera to show that the third breast had no blood in it, proof that Hessler had really just been milking it all along.
Pumpkin spice condoms
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of social media for journalists is how fast Photoshop-savvy trolls can spread rumours. Cosmopolitan got everyone excited at the thought of turning up the heat in the bedroom with pumpkin-spice-flavoured condoms. Much to the internet’s dismay, Durex abated the frenzied retweets when it released a statement that said: “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 image had been Photoshopped by web developer Cosmo Catalano in Colorado who quickly came up with it as a crafty response to New York web producer Caitlin Kelly’s list of pumpkin spice products.
Saved by the bacon: piglet saves drowning goat
This video supposedly showed a heroic piglet battling through the waters of a shallow pond at a petting zoo to rescue a drowning baby goat that had got stuck. It went viral, receiving nine million hits on YouTube. It was also broadcast by news outlets like the Daily Mail and Fox News, which claimed: “this really happened!” But the video was created for a new Comedy Central series called Nathan for You, and had been staged by 20 crew members, destroying our dreams of super pig, or ‘spider pig’ as he had been dubbed by admirers.
The meme that caused mass hysteria
The spread of misinformation can also have a considerably darker side. Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh became the face of a meme that purportedly ‘confirmed’ an urban legend. The myth goes as follows: a Chinese woman had undergone plastic surgery, unbeknownst to her husband, but was found out when she gave birth to ‘ugly’ children who bore no resemblance to their mother. This resulted in the couple divorcing.
Heidi Yeh, had just secured a gig on a glossy plastic surgery ad that portrayed the perfect family. The ad soon found its way online, where the children’s faces were warped and disfigured using Photoshop. The picture had been made into a sharply satirical meme with the scathing words: “Plastic surgery. You can’t hide it forever.”
The modified meme was picked up by a Chinese tabloid, and later the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror and The New York Post also ran the story. Yeh reportedly told the BBC that the viral meme has led to relentless – and false – accusations that she had undergone plastic surgery, which has kept her from landing big ad campaigns.
Kids, do not drink and drive – even if there is a raccoon nearby
Occasionally you read a headline that leaves you utterly flabbergasted. Give this one a whirl: “Drunk navy officer starts up car using raccoon breath.” Hooked? Us too.
Apparently an inebriated naval officer couldn’t start his car because of a built in breathalyser device that the driver has to blow into before the engine will ignite. Employing Bear Grylls level tactics, he fetched a raccoon from a nearby park, squeezed air out of its feral frame into the breathalyser and drove off – raccoons tend to be teetotal so there is a shred of authenticity here.
This fabricated flight of fancy first appeared on Reddit, and was later picked up by a local CBS website and tweeted by The Telegraph. We don’t know whether to praise the creativity or lament the death of fact-checking.
By Adam Chapman and Yashi Banymadhub