For every research finding that gets condensed into pop-psych nuggets and life-hacks, there are hundreds of studies that get swept under the rug because that cannot be summed up in a TED talk or as a life-hack. One such study, reported in 1976 in an academic journal, essentially found that the average person, even after being told explicitly they were lied to, will keep believing the lie… or at least that is how somebody paid by the click to report this finding would describe it. These days, pay-per-view editors rely heavily on the almighty retraction rather than fact-checking highly trafficked headlines.
Websites like The Richest are clear in their intended purpose, namely entertainment, but when serious news agencies dedicated to reporting objective information lead people astray, it is a betrayal and can be harmful, especially given that we are prone to believe whatever initial information we are given. Most examples on this list were made possible by social media’s ability to spread headlines like wildfire, or viruses; real news agencies are quick to then pick up and run with viral stories, and that is where blatantly false news stories come from, kids. Enjoy these 15 headlines that got the public in a huff and got a few narcissists their 15 minutes of fame, before proving totally false.
15. State Mandated Dictator Hair
When Kim Jong-un took over for his father, news media expected the son to put the father’s stifling leadership style to shame, and they were ready to believe that North Korea’s new leader would require citizens to cut their hair, Kim Jong-style. It is true that there are strongly recommended guidelines for more general things like grooming and hair length. The scary thing about supposedly falsified news reports from behind authoritarian borders, is that the headline of false reports may itself be a cover-up. One such story about the “alleged” murder of a Southeast Asian statesman sounded plausible given history.
14. Al Qaeda Leaks Terrorist Training Video
The set of brief and blurry clips of a poor-man’s military training camp enraptured the world for weeks in 2002 until it started asking the obvious question of how a former Al Qaeda grunt survived filming and leaking top secret footage from out this groups violent ranks. Turns out the U.S. has landscapes that look strikingly similar to Afghanistan’s desert plains, and those monkey bars and clumsy training exercises came from a promotional video for a one Johnathan Idema’s “special ops” training camp.
13. The Sarkozy Affair
In 2010, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and spouse Carla Bruni, were both rumored, in international press releases everywhere but in his home country, to be having torrid affairs. What became a legitimate story in national news publications was in fact nothing more than a social experiment to see if a totally unverified bit of gossip could make enough of a buzz on Twitter for legitimate outlets to take notice. This is at least the story that Parisian magazine L’Express ran to mitigate the damage; but the supposed hoaxer was never named and the only proof is Bruni’s stated trust in her husband.
12. Man Dies After Doing A Hornets’ Nest
International Business Times‘ editorial board landed itself in hot water after repeating a Swedish joke-news magazine story about a man named “Hasse” who screwed himself to death indirectly by sticking his manhood in an active hornets’ nest. Not only was the original story a joke, including the fact that countless hornets were found dead and covered in human ejaculate, but the details of this made-up story were also lost in translation. In a ready retraction, International Business Times admitted to missing the innuendo that made this a clear hoax to Swedes; for instance Hasse’s neighbor’s name roughly translates to the English, penis.
11. Major Airlines To Fly Relief Workers To Haiti For Free
The tragedy of this hoax is not that somebody outside of JetBlue and American Airlines started this rumor in the hopes of guilt-tripping these transportation giants into offering pro-bono support for earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. The sad part of this non-story is that the guilt trip did not work. An American Air representative did not even bat an eye at the irony when he denied any association between the airlines and this prankster, to CNN reporters, and publicly reprimanded the culprit for getting people’s hopes up. Not expressing regret that the airlines could not offer any sort of philanthropic assistance.
10. Nigerian Restaurant Uses People-Meat
This story was technically the result of a public relations stunt in the broadest sense of the term, but relations between a hotel owner, Bonaventure Mokwe, and the criminals who indirectly kicked-off this rumor by planting rotting skulls and AK-47s in plain sight in Room 201 of his establishment. In 2015, this story was published first in a Nigerian tabloid then several reputable places before it came out that Mr. Mokwe had nearly been framed for murder by Onitsha natives that he had upset in a financial dispute; he spent 88 days in police custody while his hotel was demolished and was sent on his way.
9. Man Fends Off A Bear With Bieber
The fake story here that captured the blog-o-sphere and then supposed real journalists’ imaginations is: a Russian man was almost mauled by a bear until his phone rang, and the man’s ringtone, Justin Bieber‘s disgustingly catchy and regrettably popular, “Baby,” was so harsh on the grizzly’s ears that the predator gave up on his human prey. What actually happened is that some genius at International Business News, The Daily Mail, or The New York Post got wind of a story about a rural Russian getting mauled until his regular ringtone startled the bear, but not before the man sustained serious injury.
8. Chinese Citizens Miss The Sun
It is true that China is as guilty as other developing nations of choking up Earth’s atmosphere with the excrement of industry we call smog. However, it is wholly untrue that Chinese citizens have resorted to watching Jumbotron sunsets because they can no longer see the real thing. Most Chinese citizens are presumably more concerned with surviving a rural lifestyle with no infrastructure or staying competitive in a globalized market. Point being: Unfortunately for the tabloids, the fake sunset in this story was part of a video billboard, another way to sell a product and keep industry and commerce moving, nothing more.
7. Selfie Shoes
This early (2015) April Fool’s Day gift can be credited to the 24-hour international news cycle and women’s shoe manufacturer and vendor by the name of Miz Mooz. The company leaked a joke advertisement to major news magazines for Selfie Shoes, stylish pumps with a camera phone extending out from the toe. Just kick your leg up above your head in a public place and hope you are flexible enough to touch your toes, it is just that simple. It is also frightening to think this design flaw did not raise red flags for USA Today, Yahoo News, or The Huffington Post.
6. Subtext And A Tip Become Bigotry
Before getting the facts of the case, NBC and ABC ran with the false claim, made by waitress Dayna Morales, that a table of patrons had left the note, ‘I do not agree with your lifestyle,’ instead of the $18 tip the party had proof of leaving. In the evermore bigoted social atmosphere we find ourselves in, it is likely Morales heard this malicious note in the subtext of conversation and made a false claim to get back at her homophobic patrons, but it is also suspicious that only the ‘Customer Copy’ receipt shows a tip, while the receipt Morales shows no tip and the hurtful message.
5. Rehana the ISIS Slayer
The name of the woman in the image above is unknown to the journalist who spoke with the fighter that came to be called, Rehana. While she is a soldier and presumably knows quite well how to fire the weapon she is posing next to, her rank and position make it impossible for her to have seen enough combat to have killed let alone seen 100 ISIS fighters. Most reports after this pro-Kurdish urban legend was debunked, have played down the importance of her auxiliary Home Guard unit, but it is only in contrast to her nickname ‘Angel of Kobane,’ that she falls short.
4. Cal Tech’s Earthquake Prediction
This was a case of a genuine miscalculation, a ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ scenario, your classic tale of a well-meaning Chicken Little who turned out to be full of nuggets. The geologists/earth scientists at California’s Institute of Technology located in sunny Pasadena, CA were red in the face after their warnings proved false that the Big One, the earthquake that Angelenos fear like Armageddon, was finally on its way. All Cal Tech representatives offered was, ‘We cannot predict earthquakes.’ Suffice it to say citizens who had clogged phone lines with their concern were not quite satisfied with this retraction.
3. ‘Gross’ Girl Refused Service At KFC
The only unfortunate kernel of truth in this story is that three-year old Victoria Wilcher had prior to these fabricated events actually been mauled by a pitbull, leaving her with a severely injured right eye and gashes in her face. Thankfully there is also a silver lining to this lie: Donations for young Wilcher’s medical bills and offers of free plastic surgery came pouring in after Mississippi’s ABC affiliate, WAPT, ran with Victoria’s grandmother’s completely fabricated story. The deceitful/caring grandmother, Kelly Mullin, told WAPT that KFC employees had asked Victoria to leave at the request of disgusted customers.
2. Planned Parenthood Harvested Aborted Baby Parts
‘Dead baby jokes are never funny,’ is what we are supposed to say before we tell dead baby jokes, but leave it to a group of pro-life conservatives to give no warning before editing up a “prank” video of a Planned Parenthood employee admitting her organization sells aborted fetuses for money, and a video complete with images of stillborn babies standing in for aborted fetuses. This 2015 headline actually got quite serious and led to several official investigations into trumped up allegations that nonetheless made it to the national stage (on the lips of Senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz).
1. U.S. Drinking Age To Change To 25
This story first ran in 2014 in Sunday Times Daily, which, if the paradoxical name did not tip you off, is an online magazine purely designed to attract clicks, regardless of how true or truth-y anything they report is. It tops the list because it caused the most panic in the most people in North America and because it was is the least likely of all the stories described here to be a hoax. If Prohibition-era mob violence and political corruption proved anything about Westerner’s, it is that you do not mess with a Westerner’s access to alcohol (or firearms).