KYM Review: Rumors And Hoaxes Of 2015
Editor’s Note: This article is part of Know Your Meme’s annual Top Ten Review series looking back at some of the most memorable and popular memes, events and people that defined Internet culture in 2015 as we know it.
ou might think that spreading fabricated news stories, false rumors and absurd hoaxes would become increasingly difficult as the web matures, with our ability to sniff out falsehoods growing stronger over time. Well, you would be very, very wrong.
With sophisticated digital image and video manipulation software, trigger happy Facebook sharers and lazy clickbait journalism practices, spreading lies is easier than ever before! News sites are all too eager to forego fact checking these days, citing shady blogs and unverified sources for quick-and-easy pageviews. Most Facebook users can't be bothered to do a quick Snopes search before posting the latest sensational story to their news feeds.
Some liars were exposed this year as well, including Rachel Dolezal, the former president of the Spokane, Washington chapter of the NAACP, who had a rather spectacular fall from grace when it was discovered that she was a white woman masquerading as an African American.
Additionally, Taiwanese model Heidi Yeh came forward in October, revealing that a hoax depicting her as a woman with plastic surgery who mothered several ugly children had a detrimental effect on her career.
- The Hoaxer: Unknown
- Duration: October 2015 – November 2015
- How It Started: A photoshopped cell phone photograph of Devi Lovato began circulating on Tumblr in October 2015, leading user Cstcrpt to joke that it was actually a picture of her fictional twin sister "Poot."
- How It Unraveled: In early November, the original cell phone photograph surfaced online, showing clear signs that the Poot Lovato image had been digitally altered.
Paige Yore’s Walmart Cashier Story
- The Hoaxers: Paige Yore
- Duration: December 4th, 2015 – December 7th, 2015
- How It Started: In early December, Facebook user Paige Yore posted a video in which she described an experience at Walmart in which a cashier had an emotional breakdown after being harassed by an angry customer, revealing that his mother had just committed suicide. The video received millions of views, reached the front page of the /r/videos subreddit and was reposted to YouTube numerous times.
- How It Unraveled: Within 72 hours, a Walmart spokesperson disputed Yore's description of the events in the video and cited a review of the store's video surveillance footage. Snopes has since declared the claims presented in the video as "false."
- The Hoaxers: 4chan users
- Duration: July 2015
- How It Happened: It all began in early July, when a page was created on the e-commerce platform Sellfy selling tickets for an upcoming event named "FemCon 2015." The conference was described as a place to "tackle critical issues" and "shape the future of women's' rights."
- How It Unraveled: On July 26th, a gallery of chatroom screenshots were released on Imgur, purportedly showing 4chan users orchestrating the hoax event. The gallery was widely circulated on various social media platforms, leading to the removal of the Sellfy page.
- The Hoaxers: 4chan’s /b/ (random)
- Duration: November 2015
- How It Happened: An anonymous 4chan user started a thread urging readers to post the false rumor that Drake had died in a car crash to his music videos on YouTube.
- How It Unraveled: The same day, screenshots of the 4chan thread began circulating online, leading many news sites to publish articles revealing the hoax.
- The Hoaxer: 4chan users
- Duration: October 2015
- How It Started: In early October, an anonymous 4chan user started a thread suggesting readers create a hoax encouraging Tumblr users to soil themselves for "equality." Several sock puppet accounts were subsequently created on Twitter featuring images of women with pee-stained pants accompanied by the hashtag #PissForEquality.
- How It Unraveled: After the blog InfoWars triumphantly declared the hoax was a success, others were quick to point out that nearly all tweets promoting the hashtag appeared to have been posted by sock puppet accounts.
Brian Williams' Iraq War Helicopter Incident
- The Hoaxers: Former NBC anchor Brian Williams
- Duration: January 30th, 2015 – February 5th, 2015
- How It Started: During a broadcast of Nightly News in early January, Williams claimed he had been flying in a helicopter that was attacked by a RPG while recounting a story during his time as a wartime correspondent in Iraq in 2003.
- How It Unraveled: Shortly after the segment was broadcast on NBC, members of the U.S. Army who were present during the attack came forward to dispute Williams' claims, noting that he had been transported on a different helicopter which arrived much later to the scene. On February 4th, Williams issued an official apology for the misrepresentation and was subsequently suspended from NBC for six months the following week.
- The Hoaxers: Jack Kim and Matt Henderson
- Duration: October 29th, 2015 – November 9th, 2015
- How It Started: In late October, various news sites reported that a "Tinder for fighting" mobile application named "Rumblr" would be released on November 9th, pending approval from the Apple App Store. Several screenshots of the upcoming application began circulating online, showing mock conversations between users matched fighters.
- How It Unraveled: On November 9th, a version of the app went live, which matched users with a fighter named "Dudecati" who redirected the user to the von Hughes agency website. Cofounder Matt Henderson and developer Jack Kim subsequently came forward and announced they had created the app as a viral stunt for the agency.
Phuc Dat Bich
- The Hoaxer: Thien Nguyen (a.k.a. Joe Carr)
- Duration: January 2015 – November 2015
- How It Started: In January, an Australian man posted a photograph of his passport displaying the name "Phuc Dat Bich" to Facebook, claiming his profile had been removed several times for using a fake name. The image was widely circulated online as an embarrassing mistake by the social networking site and example of racial discrimination.
- How It Unraveled: A former Melbourne classmate told Mashable that the man's name was actually "Thien Nguyen" and provided a yearbook photo. Following the revelation, Nguyen confessed to the hoax on Facebook, and identified himself as "Joe Carr," which many noted sounded similar to the word "joker."
- The Hoaxers: @famoushorse and @Mobute
- Duration: March 2015
- How It Started: On March 10th, Twitter user @famoushorse posted a tweet with the hashtag "#RIPRichardDawkins," alluding that the scientist had passed away. That day, several other Twitter users posted tweets about Dawkins' demise, many of which included jokes falsely attributing his death to various absurd causes.
- How It Unraveled: Salon published an interview with @famoushorse, who revealed the hashtag was launched with @Mobute out of "pure boredom."
Paris Terrorist Attack Crisis Actor
- The Hoaxers: Unknown
- Duration: November 2015
- How It Started: Following the tragic terrorist attacks that occured in November 2015 in Paris, France, a montage of photographs featuring crying women at various disaster scenes began circulating questioning if it was the same woman. Some speculated that the woman was a "crisis actor" and had been hired by a powerful organization.
- How It Unraveled: Several news sites have published articles debunking crisis actor conspiracy theories. A similar claim that crisis actors were used in a conspiracy regarding the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting has been listed as "false" by Snopes.