Despite the fact it's really two words instead of one, “Fake News” was recently named Collins Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2017. And why wouldn’t it have been? I mean, sure, the concept of fake news has existed for hundreds of years, but only in 2017 has the phrase been used with such frequency all around the globe. The word’s – or words’ – popularity stems primarily from United States President Donald Trump.
The internet has contributed tenfold to the spread of fake news, as users of social media sites tend to share any news story that fits their cause without fact checking beforehand. This, coupled with the usual hoaxes and satire pieces that the internet has been producing for years, has made it virtually impossible to trust things you read online. In the modern era, fake news, hoaxes, and scams exist in such great quantity that it’s impossible to remember every lie or half-truth that you encounter. Don’t worry though, we’ve been keeping track of the year’s online hoaxes in much the same way a fashionista keeps track of a year’s clothing trends or a tabloid reporter keeps track of a football player’s mistresses.
Here are 15 crazy things that we completely forgot fooled us in 2017.
15 The It Crowd
Halloween 2016 saw something of a killer clown crisis. Teenagers all over the United States took to dressing up as creepy clowns - i.e. any clown - and hiding in the woods and dimly lit alleyways to frighten passersby. In the run-up to Halloween 2017, reports began to circulate that a similar scheme was being planned again, only this time it was far more sinister.
Action News 3 posted a story claiming that the killer clowns from 2016 were preparing a spectacular comeback for a “Halloween night purge” that would see them taking the lives of children and adults alike. The article even claimed that the Department of Homeland Security had released a statement advising US citizens to spend Halloween indoors so as to avoid the wrath of the clowns. The story was quickly proven false and forgotten about, but for a couple of hours there, Halloween plans all across the US were in peril.
14 Goodnight, Sweet Prince
This past August, rumors began to swirl that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and the husband of British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, had passed away. The interesting thing about the Prince Philip death hoax is that it originated not from some prankster or little-known satire news website but from British paper The Daily Telegraph.
Any news source worth its salt has pre-prepared obituaries for important figures that require only the date and cause of death to be filled in, which allows them to get the news out as fast as possible when the inevitable occurs. On August 2nd, 2017, The Daily Telegraph accidentally published its pre-written Prince Philip obit online, which sent hundreds of thousands of UK residents into premature mourning. Site editors realized their mistake quickly and the article was deleted within minutes, but reports of Prince Philip's death at age XX continued to circulate until Buckingham Palace got involved and swept them under the rug.
13 The McCann Lie Detector Extravaganza
On the 3rd of May, 2007, British toddler Madeleine McCann went missing from her family’s hotel room in Praia da Luz, a Portuguese resort in which they were holidaying. Although her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, have long claimed that their child was snatched from her bed in the middle of the night, there are some who believe they played a part in their daughter’s disappearance.
In April of 2017, news broke that the McCann’s had agreed to take part in a lie detector test to be aired on The Jeremy Kyle Show, which is sort of like The Jerry Springer Show with more tea and crumpets. The claims sparked a mini media frenzy and had the British people anxiously awaiting the announcement of an air date until the story was traced back to The Morning Wood, which is, surprise surprise, a satire website.
12 Reports Of Bob Barker’s Demise
After 2016 legitimately took the lives of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, and a couple dozen more of our favorite celebs, social media users had no reason to doubt that 2017 would be any different. This acclamation to celebrity deaths was the first of two reasons everybody was so quick to accept the false reports of Bob Barker’s death when they began to circulate in June 2017. The second reason, for those wondering, was that Bob Barker was 94 years of age at the time, so of course, he died.
According to the erroneous death report, the former host of The Price is Right passed away after falling and suffering “a nearly two-inch laceration on the side of his forehead”. While Barker did indeed suffer a fall during the summer, it certainly didn’t kill him and he has thankfully managed to make a full recovery in the weeks and months that have since passed.
11 Bareback Obama
President Barack Obama spent his eight years in the White House as an ally of the LGBT community and under his administration same-sex marriage was made legal all across the United States. Obama’s championing of the gay community added fuel to the fire of a story that hit the internet in September 2017, claiming the former president’s stylist admitted to walking in on him in the middle of a gay tryst.
The ex-stylist allegedly told The Last Line of Defense that he had inadvertently witnessed the former Commander-in-Chief making sweet love to a White House intern in the Reagan Bedroom. It was a tasteless smear story, but it was written well enough to fool both Obama’s detractors and supporters alike. It was actually the second “Obama is gay” story to rock the internet in 2017 as an earlier article claimed that the president had considered pursuing a same-sex relationship with a gay professor he met during his time at Columbia College.
Shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit and dismantled the state of Texas in August of 2017, the internet was flooded (sorry) with pictures purporting to show the results of Mother Nature’s attack on The Lone Star State. One image that got a lot of attention online featured a shark swimming through flood water that had supposedly engulfed a Houston highway. The picture was shared hundreds upon thousands of times and was even discussed on a Fox News broadcast. In the end, the picture turned out to be the work of a prankster who had downloaded some photo editing software, much to the relief of Huston’s residents.
Pictures like this are actually a common occurrence in the aftermath of hurricanes and major storms, but this is the only one that managed to fool an entire nation (or at least the portion of the nation that watches and trusts Fox).
9 Hillary’s Hoax
2017 killed more celebrities than heroin, so it's only fair we end this list of the year’s hoaxes and fake news stories with another misreported death. On the 29th of May, 2017, the website Fresh News posted a story with the headline “BREAKING: Hillary Clinton Found Dead”. However, when site visitors clicked on the link, they were taken to a video of the 1987 Rick Astley hit “Never Gonna Give You Up”.
What the moderators of the site didn’t account for was the fact that in 2017 nobody reads news stories, they simply read the headline and hit the Share button. This meant that what was supposed to be a textbook example of rickrolling became an international news story. Many of us fell for it - myself, I’m ashamed to say, included - but the Clinton camp felt no need to deny the report. Instead, they handled the situation in classic Clinton fashion; that is to say, they ignored it and hoped it just went away and, for perhaps the first time in political history, that tactic worked as the story had no sooner penetrated the mainstream consciousness than it was forgotten about.
8 The Simpsons Already Did It
In early 2017, a story began to circulate claiming that The Simpsons had accurately predicted every aspect of Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl LI halftime performance in the 2012 episode “Lisa Goes Gaga”. According to the original article, that episode saw Gaga hoisted into the air during a Super Bowl halftime show while a light show took place in the night sky behind her, which is exactly what happened when Gaga took the stage during the 2017 instalment of the football spectacular. Those claims were misleading at best.
While Gaga did indeed take flight on stage in The Simpsons, the concert was not a Super Bowl halftime show. Furthermore, no light show was featured in the episode, although that didn’t stop the writer of the clickbait article from including a still from a 2005 Simpsons episode that did include a light show. It seems that when it comes to predictions, The Simpsons is not as accurate as we have been told it is. I mean, the only thing I can recall the show ever successfully predicting was a white Michael Jackson (and the election of Donald Trump as President).
7 Trump’s Rump
Shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump In January 2017, a picture was uploaded by the controversial Facebook page No Lapdog Media II, which showed Barack Obama, in the final hours of his presidency, placing his hand on the backside of the soon-to-be First Lady of the United States, Melania Trump.
The picture served to turn many an Obama fan against the man they had adored for eight long years. Thankfully, it was eventually proven to be the work of Photoshop when an actual screenshot of the encounter was found, showing Obama with his hand on Melania’s upper back as he guided her inside the Capitol Building. Still, Trump supporters used this picture for months, coming back to it every time the new president was accused of sexism and misogyny until even they forgot about it.
6 Facebook’s Expensive New Pricing Scheme
Every year, a story emerges about Facebook introducing a pricing scheme á la Netflix and similar subscription websites. Every year that story is proven to be a hoax. And every year we forget about it until we fall for it again the following year. 2017 was no different. At the end of the summer, rumors once again began to swirl about an impending Facebook subscription fee, one that would be impossible for the average user of the site to afford. These rumors, as they always do, spawned online protests and petitions from those most determined not to spend their hard-earned money on Mark Zuckerberg's creation.
Unsurprisingly, the story was forgotten about after a couple of weeks and no fee was ever introduced. When it rears its ugly head again in 2018, I advise you to think back to this article and the promise Facebook makes to new users when they sign up: It’s free and always will be.
5 The Queen Is Dead
Prince Philip wasn’t the only royal to be reported dead in 2017. Even Her Majesty herself wasn’t immune to the death hoaxes that swept the internet during the year. In late December 2016 and early January 2017, the death of Queen Elizabeth II was reported by a rather convincing BBC News parody Twitter account. “BREAKING:” read one of the tweets, “Buckingham Palace announces the death of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of 90.”
The Tweet played on earlier reports of the Queen’s failing health and lead many British Twitter users to believe that their beloved monarch had passed away. Reports of the Queen’s death became so widespread in the days after the tweet was posted that Buckingham Palace was forced to release a statement ensuring Elizabeth’s subjects that she was still alive and was successfully recuperating from a winter cold.
4 No Child Support
In September of 2017, reports began to circulate that United States President Donald Trump had decided to eliminate child support in the country. While eradicating child support certainly wouldn’t be the craziest thing Donald Trump has done since taking office, those reports were, thankfully, false. The claims first surfaced on React365, a satirical news website that obviously wasn’t clear enough about its status as a purveyor of comedy news. The fact that so many people were fooled by the story would suggest that most of them simply read the headline as opposed to reading the article itself, which contained such poorly structured sentences as “Child support claims have to come to an end” and “President Trump claims he will no longer, for any party or parent, to pay child support”. That last sentence wasn't an error on my part, that’s actually what it said.
3 Free Manson
As a consequence of the 1969 Tate Murders, cult leader Charles Manson has been imprisoned since 1971 and is likely going to spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Of course, the fact that Manson is serving multiple life sentences didn’t stop claims that he had been granted parole in July of 2017. The reason given for Manson’s impending release was prison overcrowding, which supposedly made it impossible for the state of California to continue housing long-term prisoners. Like many of the stories that fooled us in 2017, this story originated on Empire News, a website that specializes in satire news. Despite Empire News’ disclaimer, the story was picked up by multiple news outlets and was reported as fact for several weeks until it just sort of fizzled out and the world moved on to its next factually inaccurate obsession.
2 Fake Slurs
In September of 2017, a number of racial slurs were discovered sprawled across the rooms of five black students at an Air Force Academy dormitory. The slurs were treated by many as a consequence of President Trump’s borderline racist rhetoric and his supporters were further condemned nationwide. Even the superintendent of the school spoke out against the apparent increase in hate crimes that his district had seen since Trump took office.
Two months later, however, it was discovered that the slurs had been forged by one of the supposed victims of the hate crime. The Air Force Academy made sure to announce that the offending offensive student had since left the school, but refused to comment on if he or she had been expelled or had left under their own accord. They also neglected to share the identity of the perpetrator or how they came to be found out.
1 The Second Lady
Ahead of a public appearance alongside her husband Donald, First Lady Melania Trump made the decision to wear her hair a little differently. American first ladies have very rarely changed their looks, so Melania’s sudden decision to alter her style received a great deal of media attention and gave rise to rumors that she had been replaced by a body double.
According to those who legitimately believed Melania was not Melania, the real First Lady walked out on her husband shortly into his presidency and was immediately replaced by an actress so as to avoid uproar from Trump’s traditional supporters. An unnerving number of people fell for the reports that the First Lady had been recast, but the story was eventually forgotten about and the White House went back to business as usual… Well, as usual as usual can be in 2017.