2015: The Year In Internet Hoaxes

Oh, fake news. It’s always just believable enough to publish but just outlandish enough to go viral. This year saw a rash of politically-motivated hoaxes alongside your occasional (but notable) click-thirsty anons out for the Internet’s attention. Here are 10 of 2015’s best internet hoaxes:

school lunches

Date: February 24, 2015

Hoax: School Lunches Around the World

Who Believed It: HuffPo, Distractify, Fast Company, Daily Mail, Conservative Tribune

What Happened: Conservative Tribune posted a photo gallery of trays of enticing-looking school lunches from around the world, blaming Michelle Obama for the downfall of food in America (or something). Other outlets interpreted the photos more kindly, and the photos went viral. The original photos were from Sweetgreen.com, and while they’re based on actual cafeteria options from around the world, the point is that 1) No, Michelle Obama isn’t ruining food for kids, and 2) no one’s cafeteria lunch is actually plated that beautifully.

What It Says About Us: Americans have a weird inferiority complex about food, basically.

hm nazi tshirts

Date: March 23, 2015

Hoax: H&M’s Neo-Nazi T-ShirtsWho Believed It: Complex, HuffPo

What Happened: In 2014, H&M had to withdraw vests that featured a Star of David with a skull in the middle after claims of anti-Semitism. In 2015, it appeared that H&M was up to it again, with pictures being circulated of t-shirts featuring heavy metal bands with right-wing, neo-Nazi sympathies. It turned out that it was all fake: Members of actual Finnish metal bands had concocted the entire story because they were tired of watching H&M commodify the metal look.

What It Says About Us: Anyone with decent Photoshop skills and a willingness to bring up Nazis can manipulate our emotions even better than Facebook can.

michelle obama shaved head

Date: March 25, 2015

Hoax: Michelle Obama Shaved Her Head

Who Believed It: New York Daily News, “The View

What Happened: Michelle Obama made a surprise appearance on Jeopardy! that left the ladies at The View, NYDN, and a few rubes scratching their heads for a minute. It appeared that the First Lady had shaved her head, but, of course, her hair was just pulled back.

What It Says About Us: We will never, ever, ever stop being judgy about how Michelle Obama chooses to get dressed in the morning. Or, really, we’ll never stop being judgy about Michelle Obama. Good thing she DGAF.

jade helm

Date: March 26, 2015

Hoax: Jade Helm

Who Believed It: Infowars, RT, the usual conservative conspiracy theorist suspects

What Happened: Remember that time that a run-of-the-mill military exercise was made into a BFD by Alex Jones, who claimed it was Obama’s entree into establishing martial law in Texas, and then it turned out that it was completely and totally just a run-of-the-mill military exercise? Oh, Alex Jones.

What It Says About Us: The American public loves a good conspiracy theory and will give paranoid right-wingers a platform for a few days, if only for the sake of entertainment.

beard poop

Date: May 4, 2015

Hoax: Beards Are Full Of Poop

Who Believed It: New York Post, The Mirror, Bro Bible, NBC News, Esquire, Mashable, Elite Daily, Details

What Happened: When news broke that guys with beards have poo-covered faces, the Internet went a little crazy. If you have a beard, don’t worry. The story wasn’t from a scientific study; a news anchor just swabbed some guys’ beards and sent the results to a lab to see what those beards held. Some of them had the same gut bacteria that’s in poop, but that’s not exactly the same thing as your face being covered in “poop particles.” (Admittedly, we believed this one, too.)

What It Says About Us: Young Americans are still conflicted over our lumbersexuality. 

jenner espy

Date: June 3, 2015

Hoax: Caitlyn Jenner Wins An ESPY Over A Brain Cancer Victim

Who Believed It: New York Post, Daily Mail, transphobes everywhere.

What Happened: This distorted story was mostly just sour grapes – not on the part of people who believed that Lauren Hill, the 19-year-old basketball player who passed after a battle with brain cancer in April, deserved to be recognized, but on the part of people who just hate Caitlyn Jenner for being trans. The Arthur Ashe Courage Award doesn’t have “contenders” who are “in the running,” and no one “loses” it – it’s just awarded to one person, so Jenner didn’t, like, beat out Hill for the award.

What It Says About Us:  Transphobes that they’re willing to exploit a genuinely courageous 19-year-old’s pain, suffering, and death to try to convince other people to be transphobic, too.

jenner medals

Date: June 5, 2015

Hoax: …And The Campaign To Strip Jenner Of Her Gold Medals

Who Believed It: The Independent, Washington Post, OutSports, Us Weekly, PinkNews, The Telegraph, The Frisky

What Happened: On the other side of the trans rights aisle, Jenner’s supporters became incensed by a petition that was circulating to have her Olympic medals stripped because of her transition. Good thing for everyone that it was engineered as a hoax by 4chan, huh? Sure, plenty of the signatures were sincere, but at least no one hated Jenner enough to earnestly start the petition.

What It Says About Us: Trolls are eye-rollingly awful, trans rights supporters are painfully earnest and a little gullible, and we all need to do a better job of checking our sources.

sam and nia

Date: August 5, 2015

Hoax: Sam & Nia

Who Believed It: For about half of a day, pretty much everyone, and then pretty much no one.

What Happened: Sam and Nia Rader, two married Christian vloggers, posted a video of Sam testing the Rader toilet bowl to see if Nia was pregnant. It turned out positive, and he “surprised” her with her own pregnancy. Four days later, in a video titled “Our Baby Had A Heartbeat,” they claimed the baby was miscarried. Then it all started falling apart: No, you can’t test pregnancy from a toilet bowl; no, a baby doesn’t have a heartbeat that early in a pregnancy; no, they didn’t know for sure that Nia was pregnant; no, she didn’t miscarry; oh, and by the way, Sam used Ashley Madison to scope out some good ol’ Christian adultery; oh, and by the way, Sam was kicked out of Vlogger Fair for threatening another vlogger; oh, and by the way, even if you’re comfortable lying for clicks and excusing your own infidelity, it’s totally cool to try to convince your daughter that gay marriage is wrong.

What It Says About Us: America’s favorite pastime is schadenfreude, and some people are willing to completely self-immolate in order to get YouTube views.

bacon gives you cancer

Date: October 26, 2015

Hoax: Bacon Gives You Cancer, Sugar Is Toxic

Who Believed It: NPR, Reuters, The Guardian, TIME, New York Daily News, BBC, Washington Post, TIME again, Science Times, New York Times, Elle

What Happened: OK, OK, technically this isn’t a hoax so much as bad science reporting, but it’s not dissimilar, as online media outlets published sensational and misleading headlines to get those sweet, sweet clicks. As Wired reported, the study in question showed that eating two slices of bacon every day for your whole life will raise your chance of developing colorectal cancer from 5 percent to 6 percent, and Stats.org laid out all the ways that the sugar study was flawed.

What It Says About Us: In our anxiety over perfecting our diets, we’re willing to believe huge, broad statements about nutrition based on very small, unreliable study data.

phuc dat bich

Date: November 20, 2015

Hoax: Phuc Dat Bich

Who Believed It: HuffPo, Cosmo, SFGate, New York Daily News, Uproxx, Us Weekly, your friends, you, your mom.

What Happened: A man posted a photo of his ID on Facebook in January, saying that his legal name is “Phuc Dat Bich” and that he finds it “highly irritating” that Facebook kept removing his page. The post went viral in late November, and garnered the attention of various click-hungry blogs. Four days later, the man posted on Facebook again, clarifying that “Phuc Dat Bich” was a hoax. He signed it Joe Carr – “joker” – so who this person is, we may never know.

What It Says About Us: Earnest and well-meaning Americans, in our effort to be culturally sensitive, are easily duped regarding non-Anglo names.

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