The story seemed too good to be true. “Alexander” — no further details — had emerged from the wilderness of Tuva, deep Siberia, after spending a month in a bear den. Alexander had survived after being kept by predators for food. He drank his own urine. It was a “miracle” he did not die.
Several publications around the world ran the incredible story of a “Russian mummy saved by hunting dogs,” with a video of what appeared to be an emaciated Alexander, clearly looking worse for wear, in hospital.
Except, as it turned out, it almost certainly wasn’t true.
As with most crazy Russian tabloid news stories, the bear man tale had arrived on the UK horizon via a well-known syndication service, which sources its material in Russian tabloids.
News about Siberian cannibals, mass murderers, baby killers, sadist gynaecologists, Grandmas killed in bloody sex games — they all come in this way.
Most of the time, the sourcing is as good as the Russian tabloid market from where the stories come from — i.e. sometimes passable.
But this time, the story was so incredible, and so clickable, that even the Russian source publication - an obscure news site called EADaily - forgot to check. Or didn’t want to check. Or was operating with other considerations in mind.
Alexei Demin, editor of EADaily, told The Independent that he had received the video of the man from a single local source, who had in turn received the video from his “hunter friends via social media.” He added his website was waiting for additional details, two days after publication.
The team was likely happy with the success of the article, which is by far the most popular story on the site, with over 300,000 views.
But this is not the first time the "living mummy" video has gone viral.
On 19 June, an incredible story came to light in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The hero of the tale was also called “Alexander.” Funnily enough, he was also a man who had also survived the unsurvivable, having apparently emerged from under the ground in a cemetery. Local teenagers shared pictures and videos of the dead-alive Alexander on social media.
These were, of course, the very same images used a week later in the bear story.
Unsurprisingly, local officials later confirmed the story was fake — there had been no discovery of new bodies, or earth moving phenomena, at the cemetery.
On Thursday, Mr Demin admitted that Tuva's local police had contacted the publication, accusing them of faking the bear story.
Of course, this was a pretty convincing deception, and it isn't hard to understand why the media were fooled.
The video produced in support of both stories show a high level of professionalism, perhaps using a puppet, and/or special effects mastery.
As of yet, it isn’t clear who or what were the driving forces behind the attempts to plant the story: whether the aim was to demonstrate the folly of viral news, to have a joke, or to sell something. We may soon have an answer on that front.
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