August 11, 2018 7:00 am

A boy playing on a phone at a gas station didn’t cause fatal explosion, as viral post asserts

Did a family meet a fiery doom because a 10-year-old was playing on a phone at a gas station? No.


Even by the free and easy standards of fake news, it doesn’t get many marks for effort.

“Let kid use mobile phone in the car at the gas station, the whole family exploded in horror,” this story on the dubious site asserted.

“The 10-year-old boy was electrocuted and exploded like fireworks just because he accepted the challenge of his friends. Parents must remind children this problem!”

How the electrocution came into it wasn’t fully explained, or indeed explained at all.

It’s so sketchy, in fact, that it wouldn’t have been on our radar at all if it hadn’t gotten to 2.3 million Facebook interactions – and 705,000 retweets – and was the #4 story on Facebook in the past month, according to Newswhip.

Teaching kids to spot fake news in the modern internet age

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The story itself is short on basic details like where, when and how (though we guess it gets a bare pass on why) but we can supply them.

The pictures in the story are borrowed from coverage of a real incident last year in suburban Rio de Janeiro (h/t to, in which a car exploded while it was being fuelled with natural gas (h/t to Snopes). Chrome will translate the original story in local media, which was in Portugese. As far as we can make out, the fire had nothing to do with phones.’s registration is blocked, but its IP address places it in Hanoi.

Can phones set fuel fumes at a gas station on fire? It seemed to be a widespread belief in the late 1990s, but the U.S. Petroleum Equipment Institute, which studies fires and explosions at gas stations, says it can’t find a single incident in nearly 20 years of data that was linked in any way to a cell phone.

Good Morning America and Mythbusters tested the cell-phone-at-the-gas-pump theory, with reassuring – and anticlimactic – results.

White House: Trump isn’t concerned about autocrats using ‘fake news’

However, warnings still persist.

This booklet from Shell points out that “cell phones are electrical devices, so they’re a potential ignition source for any fumes.” However, in a recent visit to a Petro-Canada station we saw the usual set of warnings and instructions, but nothing about cell phones.

This Alberta government warning says that ” … phones that light up when switched on or when they ring may have enough energy to provide a spark,” but if that was a danger worth taking seriously it would make more sense to turn the phone off completely before starting to pump gas.

In brief:

  • A recent study showed that divorced white men were more likely to hold views associated with the alt-right: a strong sense of white identity, a belief in the importance of white solidarity, and a sense of white victimization. As the authors point out, the causality could go either way, or both ways at once: “It is possible that the experience of divorce makes one feel more alienated and negative in general. It is also conceivable that the causal connection is reversed, or that having these attitudes makes one more likely to get divorced.”
  • From Poynter: Snopes fired its managing editor, and it’s not clear why.
  • This week platforms including Apple (which hosts a lot of podcasts), Facebook and YouTube largely banned Alex Jones. The decision, writes Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel, raises as many questions as it answers: “None of these platforms used the opportunity to provide a transparent roadmap for enforcement in a post-Jones platform era … As the Tech v. Infowars conversation continues, it might be important to be mindful not just of the enforcement rules the platforms use to govern, but the systems they’ve built that fuel behavior.”
  • At Bloomberg: a look at how states are sponsoring trolls to torment journalists and critics online: “Combining virtual hate mobs, surveillance, misinformation, anonymous threats, and the invasion of victims’ privacy, states and political parties around the globe have created an increasingly aggressive online playbook that is difficult for the platforms to detect or counter.”
  • Wired looks at Facebook’s inadvertent but critical role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, which go back to bloody rioting there in 2014. “To critics of the social media company, the early response to the Mandalay riots were harbingers of the difficulties it would face in Myanmar in the coming years—difficulties that persist to this day: A slow response time to posts violating Facebook’s standards, a barebones staff without the capacity to handle hate speech or understand Myanmar’s cultural nuances, an over-reliance on a small collection of local civil society groups to alert the company to possibly dangerous posts spreading on the platform. “
  • Wired also profiles fake news sleuth Jonathan Albright, ” … a sort of detective of digital misdeeds. He’s the one who tipped off The Washington Post last October to the fact that Russian trolls at the Internet Research Agency reached millions more people on Facebook than the social media giant initially let on. It’s Albright’s research that helped build a bruising story in The New York Times on how the Russians used fake identities to stoke American rage. He discovered a trove of exposed Cambridge Analytica tools in the online code repository Github, long before most people knew the shady, defunct data firm’s name.

126 million Americans fed fake news from Russian trolls

  • NPR looks at how Twitter accounts used for Russian disinformation during the U.S. 2016 election mirrored real local news headlines to build reader trust.
  • Fake news audio messages are plaguing users in India and Latin America, Poynter reports.
  • Some Russian propaganda memes aimed at Britain and the United States seem inept, and often they are. But taken as a whole, @ClaireBerlinski points out, they add up to a vast exercise in A/B testing, with failed messages discarded and successful ones amplified. “We know roughly what Putin will say, already, because we see Russian bots and propaganda organs saying it. But they have reams of data telling them *exactly* which messages we like most and how best to phrase them,” she argues.
  • At NiemanLab, a look at the long arc of broadcasting demagogues. Alex Jones is in a line of dubious characters that go back to Charles Coughlin at the dawn of radio though Glenn Beck to the present. “Jones is just a symptom,” journalism professor Michael Socolow writes. “Conspiracies are interwoven into the fabric of our national culture, and … they are so cyclical and persistent as to be thematically detectable across centuries.”
  • (1) Twitter said that Alex Jones’s Infowars account hadn’t violated its rules; (2) CNN found multiple examples of how it had; (3) the examples vanished – this, BTW, is a good example of why a contentious tweet should be archived out of reach of its creator – (4) Twitter says it wasn’t them.



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