Fake News Stories People Actually Fell For

Today, people are worried about fake news, and its effect on politics and social issues. And with fake news sites getting better and better at looking legitimate, so it is a serious concern, especially with the rise of deepfakes making it harder to distinguish a fake person from the real deal. However, most fake news stories are actually just designed to get a rise out of people, or for a quick laugh and sophistication is rarely necessary. The truth is that people often believe things that confirm their own deeply held biases, without ever making sure the new “fact” is actually true, and we will go over ten examples of this phenomenon in today’s article. 

10. Kids Smoking Bed Bugs To “Get High”

A few years ago everyone was falling for stories about ridiculous teen fads left and right, and one of the strangest was one about bed bugs. A story claimed that teens were actually smoking bed bugs, in order to get a new, dirty and horrifying type of high. This story was shared all over social media and quite a number of people took it seriously. Now, most people were quick to realize they’d been had, but they should never have been fooled in the first place. 

The most cursory Google or Wikipedia search would prove very quickly that bed bugs are not known to have any properties that would get you high, in any form, and the idea people just have a big supply of bed bugs to crush up and smoke in the first place isn’t really very believable. In fact, most people are so disgusted by them that they won’t go anywhere near them, and to even get enough to try smoking them in the first place, as they are mostly partly digested blood, would be incredibly difficult. Regardless, lots of people initially believed the story. 

9. Kids Snorting Crushed Smarties And Getting Nasal Maggots  

Around the same time people were convinced that teens were getting high on bed bugs, there was a moral panic going around about some silly middle school stuff that kids have been doing for generations. Essentially, a new hysteria was created over kids messing around with Smarties. Now, for those not in the United States (and who sometimes have a different version of the candy called Smarties), the version in the USA are chalky, sugary little discs, with a vaguely fruity flavor, wrapped in a clear plastic. 

For generations, kids have been playing around with these candies, and pretending they are cigarettes or what have you. Kids will open up the back end and pretend to smoke it, and even crush the other end and “blow so it looks like they are smoking. However, in the recent articles, the media was going wild about kids “snorting” them, something that rarely actually occurs, as doing it often would be painful. Regardless, the media found one doctor who said that if kids really did it regularly, and didn’t clean out their noses, a maggot could find it an attractive place to nest. This led to the media breathlessly reporting that kids everywhere were at risk of getting nasal maggots from the very occasional games they played with Smarties — and parents everywhere went wild and believed the latest panic. There is no evidence of any kid getting nasal maggots from crushing up and snorting Smarties — it was only a theory from a doctor that got taken out of context. 

8. China Daily Fell For An Onion Article About Kim Jong Un Being The Sexiest Man Alive 

Several years back, when Kim Jong-un had more recently taken over as leader of North Korea after the death of Kim Jong-il, satire website The Onion was lampooning him on a regular basis, and enjoying all the jokes they could think of based on his physical and personality characteristics. Considering he is a rather overweight individual who tries to hide it with oversized trench coats (but cannot hide his double chin), and who does not seem to particularly show a lot of personality or charisma in general, The Onion decided to go with a joke about his attractiveness to the opposite sex, and ran with it. 

The Onion produced an article saying that Kim Jong-un had been named the sexiest man alive. While even people who aren’t particularly good at satire would be able to figure it out from the context, it can be harder to realize when something is sarcastic if it isn’t your first language. That said, China Daily was looking for anything positive that might have been said by the West about Kim Jong-un, and latched onto the article without actually checking to make sure that it wasn’t a joke. While it was a bit of an embarrassing mistake, it’s not something Americans should feel too superior over, as they believe silly tabloid fodder out of China about the Chinese all the time. But don’t feel too badly, China. As you’ll see in this article, lots of people get fooled by The Onion…

7. The Iranian Leader Being Preferred To Obama By Rural White Americans 

Back when Barack Obama was still president, The Onion liked to run a lot of articles about how people didn’t like him, and would take it to the most ridiculous extremes when satirizing his presidency. In one of their more absurd articles, they stated that a recent Gallup poll showed that 77% of rural, white Americans would rather vote for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama. In fact, the “poll” went on to say that these same rural, white Americans would also rather go with the Iranian President, than they would with Obama, to go get a drink or enjoy a baseball game together. This was clearly satire (given it came from… y’know, The Onion) but that didn’t stop one Iranian news agency to grab hold and run with it.

Now, the Iranian news agency Fars was looking for positive pieces about their leader and against the Western leader, and it seems pretty evident that whoever chose to promote the “news” from this article probably wasn’t a native English speaker, and apparently was not too knowledgeable about the art of satire (and clearly was unfamiliar with The Onion). 

6. For Some Reason Eminem Deals With A Lot Of Death Hoaxes

Since the early days of the Internet, Eminem has been one of the most “death hoaxed” celebrities, which is rather strange as there is no particular reason to believe he would die so often. A rumor back in 2000, when the Internet was only starting to blow up, claimed that he had died in a car crash while overdosed on drugs and alcohol. His management quickly denied the rumor and Marshall Mathers proved that he was, indeed, still alive. (By, like… still being alive, and stuff.) Then, in 2006 another death hoax stepped it up a notch, by not only claiming that he died, but also that the only reason we thought he hadn’t really died was that he had been replaced by an Illuminati clone. 

Then, in 2016, yet another hoax claimed he died, which was once again disputed by his management. Just this year another hoax claimed that he had died. For those not keeping track, that is an average of one major death hoax every five years, with some people convinced that it’s all part of a government plot to replace a prominent and influential artist with a clone who they can control. While many have had death hoaxes, it is hard to explain why he has had so many. While Mathers did have a stint in rehab over some drug problems, he has been far from one of the most self destructive celebrities to get hoaxed over their own alleged death. 

5. International Media Confuses A Girl Refusing To Eat And Drink With Legal Euthanasia

This summer a news story was making the rounds that even made it to outlets like the Washington Post before they had to issue a correction. It claimed that a 17-year-old Dutch girl had died by legal euthanasia after she had been given government approval. Considering her age and the controversial nature of euthanasia, many people were concerned at the alleged actions of the Dutch government. The problem was that the original US story, taken from a Dutch news source, was simply not true. 

Whether due to deception or language issues causing a misunderstanding, the first English version of the story claimed that she died from Euthanasia, even though the Dutch newspapers did not say any such thing, and soon English language news sources were copying the original English story like crazy. After the original (inaccurate) stories made the rounds, a Politico piece discovered that the entire thing was untrue. The 17-year-old, a young mental health activist and rape survivor named Noa Pothoven, had actually not been allowed legal euthanasia like she petitioned for — they wanted her to be at least 21 first before they even considered it. Instead, she stopped eating or drinking and died of malnutrition, essentially taking her own life. The country did not legally allow euthanasia for a minor. 

4. Scam Artists Make Fake Celebrity News Stories That Are Barely Disguised Product Ads 

With fake news all over the place, people are worried about its influence on politics. But one of the more common side effects of fake news is people buying more and more useless products, due to fake celebrity product endorsements. Scammers trying to sell whatever modern day snake oil they are hawking will disguise their ads or videos as celebrities showing you how effective a new product is. The stories will claim that the most beautiful people of that cultural moment are using their product and it is just the greatest thing in the universe. 

These stories are also becoming harder to spot, as fake news gets better at looking real, and coming up with names that sound like a legitimate source. Also, to make matters worse, with “deepfakes” people can even use celebrity lookalikes and a little editing to make it look like the actual celebrity themselves is endorsing something on camera. The best way to protect yourself from this is to not believe a product endorsement if you don’t see it on a major news website, or on the celebrity’s verified social media. Celebrities at least have their reputation to worry about, so if they actually endorse something, it is probably at the very least not harmful to your health. However, when you buy from scammers, you really have no idea what you’re getting, or if it’s at all safe for human use. 

3. There Are People Who Believe In The Bowling Green Massacre (A Fictitious Incident) 

Back in 2017, Kellyane Conway spoke in favor of President Donald Trump’s proposed “muslim ban,” by mentioning an incident that “happened” in Kentucky in 2011, known as the Bowling Green Massacre. She claimed that due to the incident, President Obama had temporarily suspended travel from Muslim countries. Now, people were quick to point out that there was never any such thing as the Bowling Green Massacre, and Conway later said she misspoke. 

She was actually referring to a little known incident where, back in 2011, two Iraqi refugees were arrested in Bowling Green (the third most populated city in Kentucky) for trying to send money back to Al-Qaeda. However, while the two men had admitted that they had tried to setup IED devices against American soldiers while they had been in Iraq, there was no evidence they had hurt anyone in the States or had any plans to do so, unless you count the more indirect harm sending money to Al-Qaeda would eventually do to the troops. The point was, there was no known plan for a Bowling Green “massacre” and none ever occurred. Regardless, when polled, 51% of Trump supporters believed that such a thing as a “Bowling Green Massacre” actually happened. 

2. A US Politician Fell For A Story About Planned Parenthood Making An “Abortionplex”

In 2011, The Onion ran a story about Planned Parenthood building a gigantic, sprawling “Abortionplex” (in Kansas, of all places — a red state where it’s harder to get abortions due to state regulations) that had, among other things: a 10 screen movie theater, several restaurants, a bar, and a lot of space to walk around, shop and enjoy yourself both before, and after, your abortion. The story fooled a lot of people, and that alone would have made it fairly noteworthy, but it continued to have viral legs long after its initial publication. 

About a year after its initial posting, the story was republished, and this time representative John Fleming of Louisiana posted it to his followers telling them to read it, and see just how awful Planned Parenthood really was. Now, the post was quickly deleted when it was pointed out that it was satire, and it could have been an intern and not the actual Congressman himself (which, frankly, is much more likely), but the damage to his reputation was already done, and now many people — even those who agree with him ideologically — think a lot less of his intelligence. 

1. People Believed That Students Were Ingesting Alcohol By Means Of The Eyeball

Back in 2011, it started making the rounds in all the legitimate news sites — local and national — that young college aged students had a new way of getting drunk quicker, and that way was by taking a shot of alcohol through the eyeball. Lots of alleged videos surfaced, supposedly showing teens and young adults engaging in this dangerous practice. Doctors were quoted by news agencies, saying that it would make people go blind, damage eyesight in general, and not even get you drunk faster, which is what all the news stories speculated was the reason people were doing it. 

Ingesting alcohol by means of the eyeball is dangerous, and not an efficient way to get drunk. For this reason, it should have been obvious the whole thing was a bunch of nonsense. While a few people may have actually tried it on a dare, likely a lot of the videos were actually fake and not alcohol they were putting in their eyeball, and in general the idea that it was happening more than once in a while (if at all) was simply not believable. The reason being that not only was there no real evidence on social media that this was any kind of trend, but if it had been happening often, there would have been far more reports in the media of people having to go to the hospital because of eye damage due to the practice. Unfortunately for those who wanted to believe this sensational story, those reports never surfaced and the furor over it all died down quickly.

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