An epic health hoax, faux flood photos and other things that were fake online this week
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 (and here’s even more fake stuff from the past month).
The great chocolate diet hoax
A depressingly long list of stories about chocolate helping people lose weight (!) was revealed as fake this week, when journalist John Bohannon published his story “I Fooled Millions Into Thinking Chocolate Helps Weight Loss. Here’s How.”
The story details an elaborate hoax by Bohannon (or as he was known as the author of the study, Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D.) and two German reporters who were making a documentary about junk-science diet fads.
They conducted an actual study with flawed methodology to demonstrate how easy it would be to make headlines. And make headlines they did:
“We landed big fish before we even knew they were biting. Bild rushed their story out—”Those who eat chocolate stay slim!”—without contacting me at all. Soon we were in the Daily Star, the Irish Examiner, Cosmopolitan’s German website, the Times of India, both the German and Indian site of the Huffington Post, and even television news in Texas and an Australian morning talk show,” Bohannon’s story read.
The Irish Examiner.
Texas’ KTRE 9 News.
Australia’s 9 News.
Chocolate diet hoax redux
But it didn’t end there. Following Bohannon’s revelation, the journal that published the study claimed it was not accepted.
The following message appeared on the Facebook page of the International Archives of Medicine:
Bohannon then provided a record of correspondence with the journal to the website Retraction Watch. The correspondence includes the following quote from publisher Carlos Vazquez:
“I’m contacting to let you know your manuscript ‘Chocolate with High Cocoa Content as a Weight-Loss Accelerator’ has been pointed by our editors as an outstanding manuscript and could be accepted directly in our premier journal *International Archives of Medicine.”
This photo was posted to Facebook by Stuff Journalists Like, accompanied by the caption, “Proof that news stations will publish almost anything.”
The image, credited to a KHOU 11 News viewer, was included in a gallery on a story by the station in Houston, Texas titled “Hundreds rescued as flooding overwhelms Houston roadways.”
The only problem is that it’s not an image of rain and flooding in Houston — it’s an image from the 1993 film Jurassic Park.
The image has since been removed. But if you look closely, you can see actor Wayne Knight (also of Seinfeld fame) in his yellow raincoat, in a scene before his character Dennis Nedry is eaten by a dinosaur.
That wasn’t the only fake flood image making the rounds this week.
You know things are bad when…
… Six Flags is setting the record straight on fake photos.
A number of Twitter users fell victim to the fake photo:
It was actually a photo taken of the Scream Machine in Six Flags in Atlanta, Georgia in 2009.
Another fake photo making the rounds…
… a 14-year-old photo showing flooding in Houston after Tropical Storm Allison.
Fed up with fake nude
A Richmond, B.C. woman spoke out about fake photos of herself circulating online, and the struggle to have it taken down before finally going public.
Andrea Ng, now 21 years old, saw a manipulated photo of herself circulating on social media. It was a photo she had uploaded to Facebook, but someone had Photoshopped it to make it appear she was exposing her breasts to the camera.
She said she had Facebook, and later Tumblr, remove the image when it cropped up. She also said she went to the police to ask for help, but said nothing was done.
Finally, Ng was so fed up she began blogging about her experience on a blog entitled Cyberbullying – My Story.
“Putting this photo online of myself, half-naked, that wasn’t easy,” she said. “But I had to remind myself that this photo is fake.”