There is so much fake stuff on the Internet in any given week that we’ve grown tired of debunking it all. Fake Twitter fights. Fake pumpkin-spice products. Amazing viral video? Nope — a Jimmy Kimmel stunt!
So, rather than take down each and every undeservedly viral story that crosses our monitors each week, we’re rounding them all up in a quick, once-a-week Friday debunk of fake photos, misleading headlines and bad studies that you probably shouldn’t share over the weekend.
Ready? Here’s what was fake on the Internet this week:
1. Obama is not planning a military takeover of the American Southwest. If you had asked me two weeks ago which Internet conspiracy theory had the greatest chance of gaining mainstream traction, I would have pointed anywhere but Jade Helm — the conspiracy so far-fetched, so totally fantastical, that it could only have come out of Texas.
Depending on what strain of Jade Helm fear-mongering you subscribe to, a fairly standard military training exercise in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and several other states is actually (a) a cover for declaring martial law, (b) an attack against Islamic State fighters on the U.S.-Mexico border, (c) the beginning of a political crackdown that will end when U.S. political prisoners are imprisoned in FEMA “death domes,” (d) the reason several WalMarts have recently closed in Texas or (d) some complex combination of all four.
It’s unclear where these rumors started, exactly, but they all seem to be rooted in the fact that people don’t get what the military is doing training this way. Per the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, which announced the exercise in late March, members from four military branches will prep for foreign combat by operating covertly among U.S. civilians and traveling state-to-state in military aircraft. They even have maps that mark some states as hostile territories. Which, sure, sounds kind of strange — strange enough that, to the astonishment of many, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) ordered a state-sponsored militia to monitor Jade Helm earlier this week.
Alas, had Abbott read my colleague Dan Lamothe over at Checkpoint, he would know that the military conducts exercises like this all the time. It’s actually a really important part of prepping elite troops for the terrains and conditions they could encounter in an actual conflict zone. The only thing different about Jade Helm is its size — and the “radio shock jock-driven hysteria” it has inspired. That phrasing comes from an open letter to Abbott by former state Rep. Todd Smith, a Republican, who also said the conspiracy-mongering “embarrassed and disappointed all Texans who are also informed, patriotic Americans.”
2. The latest teen fad does not involve vanishing for 72 hours at a time. The Olds are predictably terrified about a new teen dare called “Game of 72,” played — as the name implies — by completely disappearing for 72 hours at a time. Stories on the phenomenon have appeared everywhere from Yahoo and the Huffington Post to Canada’s CBC; police departments from Massachusetts to Calgary have issued warnings about it. But as Sophie Kleeman reported at Mic Thursday, there’s no actual evidence that anybody’s ever played this game besides one 13-year-old girl in France. So yeah, this teen trend is stupid, but — it’s also not a trend yet.
3. Beards aren’t actually “dirtier than toilets”/full of poop. In an instance of the media getting science way, way wrong, a number of sites reported this week that men’s beards are full of fecal bacteria (… a.k.a., poop). Except, they failed to mention the fact that (a) everything’s covered in bacteria, and (b) the findings weren’t based on a study — just a casual sampling of a few random dudes. “Embrace the poo bacteria,” writes the Post’s Rachel Feltman, “it is a part of you.”
4. Baltimore police did not erect a billboard criticizing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. A picture of the billboard, which references city leadership that “turned their backs on our police & firefighters,” has been making the Twitter, Facebook and Imgur rounds this week in relation to the Freddie Grey case. The billboard, however, is no longer up: It’s actually from August 2010, when the police union battled city government over pension cuts.
Let’s make this go viral…support @BaltimorePolice and @BaltimoreFire #Baltimore pic.twitter.com/owBeDTPG5r
— Mazzif Fizzam (@MazzifLOL) May 5, 2015
5. Baltimore police did not shoot an unarmed black man during the protests this week. That report was made and quickly retracted by Fox News, whose Baltimore producer apparently misheard (?) or misunderstood (?) what actually happened: namely, that police officers arrested a man with a gun. Alas, that did not stop hundreds of people from retweeting the “news” from Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. In related Fox/Baltimore shenanigans, a local affiliate in Memphis, Tenn., posted a picture of Venezuela’s destructive, fiery 2014 riots to Facebook, claiming the photo was from Baltimore. The station has since apologized and said they “didn’t fact check the picture the way we should have.” Yep!
6. Edible marijuana candies have not killed 21 people. The controversial anti-drug program D.A.R.E. published a startling story to its Web site this week: In Colorado and California, it claimed, multiple people have died after eating pot gummies — “an emulsification of sweetened Jello, vodka and minced marijuana.” (Ick.) D.A.R.E. apparently failed to check into the source of its article, though; the story originated on Topeka News, one of our favorite fake-news purveyors. D.A.R.E. declined to comment when my colleague Chris Ingraham called, but suffice it to say that pot gummies aren’t such a scourge, after all.
7. Neither Edward Snowden nor B.B. King has died. Both these rumors originated on Twitter: The first from a fake account for Russia’s Interior Minister, and the latter from a tweet by Fox’s Greta Van Susteren. Van Susteren, who’s really on a roll this week, later blamed the error on her husband: He told her BB King was dead, she wrote, when actually Ben E. King was.
@greta I knew Ben King died, and thought on no, not BB King too. Why wouldn’t you verify that first? — Wade Fulp (@WadeFulp) May 1, 2015
8. This picture does not show John Legend as a baby. TMZ claimed it did in a recurring feature about celebrity baby photos — which is only funny because this baby, 16-month-old Caden, became an Internet sensation over his John Legend resemblance almost exactly a year ago.
Did we miss any other notable fake stuff this week? E-mail email@example.com — or stay tuned until next week, because surely some more shenanigans will go down in the meantime.
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Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.