Monday, December 31, 2012

Hoaxes of 2012: Birds, Alaska and death rumors

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 2:06 PM

If there were the hoax of 2012, it would have the be the prophesied end of the world. But most people were skeptical enough to buy Christmas presents, and real Mayans think we were all being weird, so here are a bunch of other hoaxes of 2012.

Viral bird videos

First, in March, it turned out the Dutch "Bird Man" can't actually fly with Nintendo Wii-controlled kite wings. Then, in December, it turned out an eagle didn't actually snatch a toddler from a Canadian park.

Sent to Alaska

Apparently there aren't too many dining options in remote Bethel, Alaska, so residents were pretty excited when fliers went up announcing a new Taco Bell. It turned out to be part of a prank between two residents, and not real, but at least Taco Bell decided to airlift a food truck to make 10,000 free consolation tacos for the town of 6,000.

Also sent to Alaska was rapper Pitbull, who paired with Walmart to make an appearance at whichever store got the most Facebook "Likes" during a monthlong promotion. The internet rallied Likes with the hashtag #exilePitbull and sent him to the small town of Kodiak.

The Onion strikes again

In September, Iran's state news agency reported that a poll reported that rural Americans prefer Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Obama. (They later admitted the poll was fake, but added that a real poll would probably have the same result.) In November, the Chinese state newspaper quoted the Onion story naming North Korea's Kim Jong-Un the "Sexiest Man Alive."

Decade-long cancer hoax

For sheer strangeness and longevity, no hoax from 2012 can beat the story of J.S. Dirr. A 22-year-old woman from Ohio had been keeping up the fake identity for half her life, going so far as to send out "Warrior Eli" bracelets for Dirr's alleged son, who had cancer. It was the bracelets that eventually revealed the hoax.

Facebook privacy notice

It seems like there's a new variation every month: Copy this long, legal-jargony paragraph and post it on your own Facebook to protect your copyright and privacy right. It sure would be nice if we could opt out of Facebook terms of service, but yeah... that doesn't do anything. (If you see friends/family falling for this hoax, this was the gentlest letdown comment I've ever seen: "Another urban legend, I'm afraid.")

Messing with the press

A 25-year-old guy admitted he lied to CBS about an embarrassing office story. He also lied to MSNBC about getting sneezed on, and lied to The New York Times about collecting vinyl records. (That last one led to one of 2012's more elaborate corrections.) He did it by responding to reporters looking for sources on a site called Help A Reporter Out — mostly to prove it could be done, he said.

In a far more elaborate NYT hoax, a fake op-ed supposedly by former editor Bill Keller was published in July. The fake article was strongly in favor of WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks eventually took responsibility, proving that Julian Assange is pretty much just a hacker egomaniac after all.

The New York Stock Exchange is flooded, and other hurricane rumors

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, the water was rising, the power was failing and people were frantically turning to Twitter for information. Some of the most frightening updates — and most famously the rumor that the New York Stock Exchange floor was flooded — all turned out to be from the imagination of one 29-year-old Republican campaign consultant.

Fox News viewers are dumb

In December, a supposed study found that Fox News viewers have an average IQ of 80, compared to the U.S. average of 100. It was totally made up. (A different, real poll in May did find that Fox News viewers are worst-informed about international news, but MSNBC viewers were second-worst, and the methodology was criticized.)

Boo the Dog and other celebrity deaths

Celebrity death rumors are an annual tradition, but the strangest this year concerned the alleged death of Boo, an adorable Pomeranian famous for being adored by Khloe Kardashian. The dog has millions of fans on Facebook, many of whom tweeted mournfully with the hashtag #RIPBoo until a publicist for the dog's book ("Boo: The Life of the World's Cutest Dog") quashed the rumors with a photo of the pup alive and adorable.

Other celebrities whose reports of death were greatly exaggerated: Cher, Morgan Freeman, Reese WitherspoonPaul McCartney, Celine DionReba McEntire, Chris BrownBruno Mars and so many more

Prank calls

More seriously, some hoaxes have consequences: Two Australian radio DJs posing as the royal family tricked a nurse into putting Kate Middleton personal nurse on the line. Three days later, the nurse committed suicide and the hoax may have been a factor.

And, finally, a few things we wish were hoaxes

Honey Boo Boo: It could just be the latest faux-life hoax-art project from Casey Affleck and Joaquin Phoenix, right?

Clint Eastwood and the chair: Now we all have to confront our own mortality. Incidentally, Eastwood told his local paper that Barack Obama is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

Demise of Hostess: It would have been such a good marketing ploy — get customers good and scared so they run out and clear the shelves of Twinkies and Ding Dongs. But no, it's really over.

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About The Author

Lisa Waananen

Lisa Waananen is the web editor and a staff writer at the Inlander. She specializes in data and graphics, and her recent cover stories have been about family history, the legacy of Spokane photographer Charles A. Libby and genetically modified food...