What was fake (and real) online this week

In this photograph taken on April 26, 2015, Buddhst prayer flags flutter in the wind near tents as a rescue helicopter takes off from Everest Base Camp, after an earthquake triggered avalanche crashed through parts of the base camp killing scores of people. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Working in the online world can be a bit of a minefield — the web is full of fakes, frauds and hoaxes. Sorting through them all can be equally frustrating and entertaining. Global News spends a lot of time verifying online material, as do sites like Emergent and Storyful (some of even read through reams of documents, like the Verification Handbook, explaining how). What better thing to write a weekly column about?

Here’s this week in real and fake stuff on the web:

Sunday: Nepal

The devastating earthquake on Saturday in Nepal gave way to many pieces of online content in need of verification. One of the most breathtaking videos popped up on Sunday.

The video showed a group of climbers on Mount Everest running for their lives as an earthquake-induced avalanche bore down.

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But was it real?

The video was posted to the YouTube account owned by Jost Kobusch, a German climber known to be on Everest at the time.

His Facebook and Twitter accounts contained details of his trek to Everest before the earthquake hit.

His website also showed details of arriving at Everest base camp on April 12.

Further analysis of the video showed the logo of Snowy Horizon Treks on a tent…

… a group known to be on Everest at the time, and according to its website, set to arrive at Base Camp the day that Kobusch detailed in his blog.

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Another blog entry prior to the quake connected Kobusch to Snowy Horizon.

Before speaking to anyone, we were already reasonably confident in the details surrounding the video.

An Edmonton climber named Alan Hancock added to our confidence: He told Global News via satellite telephone that he had to dig himself out after the avalanche.

The images seen in the video were also consistent with other reports from the mountain, like this one:

And this:

This video was shocking, but nevertheless, it was…

Monday: Royal baby madness

The week started with this question from Britain’s Daily Mail, (taking royal baby madness to another level): “Charles and Di’s ‘secret daughter’: Wills and Harry are claimed to have an IVF sister living in hiding according to outlandish story gripping US… so is there a single scrap of evidence?”

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The answer: No.

The story started in the American supermarket tabloid, the Globe. The article claimed to know that Diana had a daughter named Sarah who was 33 and living in a small New England town.

The Daily Mail recapped the tale that Lady Di was ordered to have gynaecological tests to ensure that she was fertile before she could be announced as Charles’ fiancée.

“During these tests, so the story goes, Diana’s eggs were harvested and fertilised with Prince Charles’s sperm. The tests proved successful, and the engagement of Charles and Diana was duly announced… and the embryos were ordered to be destroyed.

But one of the team who examined Diana, a ‘rogue doctor’, secretly held one of the embryos back and implanted it in his own wife. Unknown to her, she became the surrogate mother of the biological child of Charles and Diana.”

This story would have remained just a typical tabloid fantasy had it not featured an image of a woman with similar characteristics to Diana.

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It took off in U.S. online publications. Even the Daily Beast felt it necessary to debunk the story.

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Despite all the words devoted to the rumour, not one shred of evidence surfaced.

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The verdict:

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Tuesday: What the what?

Tuesday morning coffee in the newsroom was interrupted by the following email from a Global News Washington bureau staffer (subject line ‘what the what?’):

Sent: April 28, 2015 10:25 AM
To: Global National Producers/Writers
Subject: what the what?

The Cuban Interest Section in DC confirms that social media reports about Fidel Castro are NOT true.

REPEAT – official goverment spokesman says reports are not true.

Also: Granma is the online source for information about Castro – the government newspaper. Nothing on its website.

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Wait… what?

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The rumours all reportedly started via the @PresCuba Twitter account, which no longer exists. The account was also reportedly created the day before, and the allegedly big announcement was its first set of tweets.

This image was taken from a cached version of the PresCuba Twitter page.
This image was taken from a cached version of the PresCuba Twitter page.

It wasn’t the first time fake claims of Castro’s death have hit the web. Castro was last seen publicly earlier in April.

The rumours of Castro’s death, once again, were:

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Wednesday: Was Joseph Kent kidnapped?

CNN footage of protests in Baltimore Tuesday night showed a strange scene involving well-known activist Joseph Kent.

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Kent was walking in front of a line of police officers, when a police Humvee pulled up and blocked Kent from view. The camera panned, and then moved back as the Humvee moved away.

Kent was nowhere to be seen.

Social media users speculated in to Wednesday morning that he had been “kidnapped” by police.

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We were unable to reach Baltimore police for an explanation of what happened to Kent. But soon a Baltimore lawyer provided one:

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Kent was released less than 48 hours later.

While an unusual camera shot, and potentially confusing to some, it wasn’t a kidnapping. Video of Kent’s arrest was:

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Thursday: Tinder reunion

The story published by Mic was nearly unbelievable: a brother and sister were reunited on dating app Tinder after being separated 15 years before when their parents divorced.

The brother spoke to Mic about the experience: “The first time I swiped her profile I had absolutely no idea,” Erik de Vries said. “To be honest, it hasn’t been on my mind in the past few years after Maarten, my brother, and I finished a failed search for Josephine a few years ago.”

When de Vries saw Josephine Egberts, he said he started a conversation, and that led to some details emerging that eventually revealed their connection.

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Here was the alleged picture of the reunion:

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Even the New York Times blog posted a story. When twins Jeremy and Sean Telford from England saw the photo, they were shocked. It was of them (on the right), along with another set of twins.

Here’s the scene in its proper context:

Unfortunately, this story that seemed too good to be true, in fact was.

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