News travels fast — but hoaxes travel even faster. As social media became an increasingly popular and ever more unreliable way of getting news, 2014 seemed to be the busiest year for high-profile hoaxes yet.
Hoaxes were so popular this year that there were even hoax hoaxes. “Alex From Target”, for example, went viral after a girl took a photo of it and posted it online. But then a Los Angeles start-up claimed it was a marketing experiment. Jaded after so many hoaxes, the world leapt to believe the story had been faked — but it turned out the story of Alex’s being spotted while working on the till was true.
Hoaxes have a tendency to reflect the news, worries and interests of the time. 2014 was a year of leaked nude photos, Ebola and more — all of which were reflected back with corresponding hoaxes.
1. Three-breasted woman; September
The hoax: Woman calling herself Jasmine Tridevil pays $20,000 to have third breast created by plastic surgery, and attempts to use the modification to score a reality TV show.
The truth: Everyone initially fell for the story, but it slowly became clear that it wasn’t true. The pictures of the third breast came mostly from pictures taken by Tridevil herself, and it looked a lot less convincing when they weren’t. The person apparently behind the website seemed to have a history of internet hoaxes, too.
2. Emma Watson nude pictures; September
The hoax: A webpage appears counting down the time until nude photos of Emma Watson will be leaked to the public, supposedly by 4chan. The site was apparently part of ‘The Fappening’, a huge leak of pictures of celebrities.
The truth: The site was a fake — referred to as a PR stunt by many, though it didn’t really provide PR for anyone — made by a group calling themselves Rantic Marketing.
3. Toaster number equals minutes; December
The hoax: This myth rears its head every so often, and isn’t really attached to any news story. But it got very popular this month — with tweets expressing surprise to find that the numbers on the toaster refer to the amount of minutes it will stay in.
The truth: the minutes don’t mean very much at all, really, as the video below shows. Most tweeters were right that it’s more like ‘amount of toastyness’, though there’s no real standard.
4. 17-year old on stock market; December
The truth: Islam and a friend appear to have faked the claims — initially revising them down and then reportedly calling them “total fiction”. The profits would have been almost impossible to make.
5. World’s oldest tree accidentally cut down; December
The hoax: The world’s oldest tree is cut down by loggers in Peru.
The truth: The story was entirely false, made up by a fake news website called World News Daily Report and carried in various media organisations.
6. Axl Rose dies, and so does Macauley Culkin, Betty White, Miley Cyrus, Phil Collins, The Undertaker, Wayne Knight and shovel girl; various
The hoax: Almost every celebrity was said — on Facebook, Twitter or elsewhere — to have died at some point this year. The stories often caught on and went viral, before anyone had a chance to respond.
The truth: The stories were rarely reported on news sites, but garnered millions of likes on Facebook. There were some tragic, real, deaths this year — but all of those above are still with us at the time of writing.
7. Nasa confirms six days of darkness; December
The hoax: The world will experience six days of straight darkness in 2014. A solar storm was to blame, causing "dust and space debris to become plentiful and thus block 90% sunlight”.
The truth: Another fake news website (this time Huzlers.com), another fake story. Solar storms are real, though they don’t cause that much disturbance; everything else about the story was fake.
8. Giant crab in Whitstable; October
The truth: Likely just a well-doctored hoax photo (hopefully). There are some species as big as cars, but not as big as the picture and not in Whitstable harbour.
9. Black-eyed children; September
The hoax: Ghostly black-eyed children are spotted in Cannock Chase, in Staffordshire. The Daily Star ran three front pages covering the supposed rise in sightings.
The truth: The tale of the children has been around since the late 1990s, and has spread through online accounts. There’s no way of telling if there aren’t black-eyed children roaming the Staffordshire hills, of course, but there’s no real proof of them either.
10. Ebola: illegal immigrant, Bono, Mischael Essian, zombie, Akon in a bubble; October
The hoax: an illegal immigrant with Ebola is missing in Leicester, U2’s Bono and former Chelsea midfielder Michael Essien have caught the disease, people were rising back up after dying from the disease, and Akon performed in a bubble to keep himself from catching Ebola.
The truth: When horrifying and somewhat unknown stories hit the news, speculation and outright lies often fill the space around it. The dreadful Ebola outbreak was one of those — and all the stories above were false. They are at best misleading and stoke fears — at worst packed with racist and superior assumptions.
11. Chinese passport boy’s drawing; June
The hoax: A four-year-old boy defaces his Chinese father’s passport so badly that he can’t get home from South Korea. The story is posted on Weibo and goes viral from there.
The truth: The supposed drawing looked a lot like it was done on Microsoft Paint, and the scribbles conveniently covered up all the important information on the passport. It wasn’t a confirmed fake — but it looked a lot like one.Reuse content