Beards full of poo, invented illness, and other things that were fake online this week

Could this lovely beard be full of poo? . Hero Images/Getty

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 Storyful (some 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:

Monday: conflicting reports

On Monday afternoon, things appeared to be heating up in Baltimore once again during protests in reaction to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody.

One tweet from a Russia Today reporter, saying he witnessed a shooting, started the deluge:

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Then other reports emerged:

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The Baltimore Police service had tweeted about a shooting 14 minutes before the first tweets from witnesses were posted.

Then this video was posted, showing the aftermath of a shooting:

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Taken together, these seemed like enough evidence to show there was a shooting. But the original tweet by Baltimore Police service referenced a shooting on Marbourne Ave. while the video was from North and Penn.

A quick check of Google Maps showed the location in the video of North and Penn…

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…was accurate.

But still, had the cops shot a man on the street during the police protests?

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Then, Fox News correspondent Mike Tobin called in to report live on the air he had witnessed the shooting by police of a young black man as he ran away from officers.

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This was the second reporter to claim he had witnessed police shoot a man in the street. The claim prompted Global News to publish a post citing these reports. The post remained for eight minutes, before this:

As we updated our story to reflect the police service’s denial, Fox News retracted the story on air. “What’s happened is we screwed up,” Shepard Smith said live. “[Reporter] Mike Tobin thought he saw somebody get shot. And there was a gun, and there was a patient on a stretcher, and there was a woman who said she saw the cops gun him down… And what we have is nothing.”

Reporters provided more details…

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… as other denials poured in:

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Global News has a policy that states, in part: “The character limits of social media and networking sites are no excuse for incomplete, unbalanced or inaccurate reporting… Global News is responsible for making sure that reports from online sources as well as video and photos from the web are authentic…”

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

The incident was a reminder of how quickly misinformation can spread and how important it is to be critical of sources, especially in tense situations that verge on violence.

And it was only Monday.

Tuesday: ‘Beards full of poo’

On Tuesday, another report spread online with little evidence. The headlines were begging to be clicked:

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“Bearded men have poop on their faces”

“Some beards are so full of poo they are as dirty as toilets”

“Study Finds Men’s Beards Contain ‘Poop Particles’”

The reports started with one story from a TV station in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The station commissioned a scientist to look at swabs collected from the beards of men on the street.

It was not a scientific study, which would have a control group (in this case – a group of clean-shaven men, who also probably would have had the same bacteria on their faces and on the rest of their bodies).

The news network clipped the microbiologist saying : “Those are the types of things you’d find in (fecal matter).”

Bacteria are not just found in fecal matter but also found on mostly everything, like your phone, your skin, even in your food.

Even the microbiologist in the story admits these bacteria do not pose a health risk.

So, while the original story may have been right in its headline ‘Some beards as dirty as toilets,’ some toilets can be pretty clean. And the resulting Internet fervour to pronounce beards ‘full of poop’ was most certainly…

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Wednesday: Brother and sister

After the earthquake in Nepal, heart-wrenching images flooded the Internet. One such image made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter this week:

The problem is that the image was actually taken in 2007 in Vietnam.

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So while the image is…

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… as photographer Photographer Na Son Nguyen told the BBC this week, “This is perhaps my most shared photo but unfortunately in the wrong context.”

Thursday: Help save Cindy

Burlington, Ont. woman Cindy Smith said she endured pricy surgeries and treatments fighting Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder that causes weakness, fatigue, and loss of sensation in the limbs (it’s the chronic form of Guillain-Barre syndrome).

Friends and family rallied to help, and a GoFundMe page was even created to collect donations.

Her condition, apparently becoming “dire” according to the donation page, pleaded for funds “raised to save her life.”

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It said she had gone completely blind, suffered organ failure and a massive stroke, and that as a result her speech was impaired. The campaign’s goal: $1.6 million.

The page, which has since been removed, featured a video explaining Cindy’s plight.

A Facebook page was also created (and has also since been removed):

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A photo of Cindy Smith posted on the Facebook group “Help Save Cindy’s Life”. Facebook

On Thursday, police pressed charges against the 39-year-old with defrauding the public. Police alleged that an investigation had found she had fabricated the illness.

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Images online showed Smith with a white cane, and lying on a hospital bed with a mask on her face. Police acknowledged that she had made trips to the hospital, but when it came to her diagnosis, and claims that she was airlifted to hospital and had suffered organ failure, police said “There really is no evidence of anything remotely close to that.”

By the time the charges were laid, the campaign had raised more than $125,000.

According to police, this campaign was:

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