1.That time a few German documentarians tricked millions into believing chocolate is slimming and healthy.
Last year, Peter Onneken and Diana Löbl were working on a documentary film about the junk-science diet industry when they got the idea to create a junk-science study to see if they could a) get it published, and b) get it picked up by the media. With the help of Johannes Bohannon, Ph.D. (John Bohannon), the Daily Mail,Huffington Post, and Shape magazine were soon all sharing this bogus study.
In February 2014, after social media had been going crazy trying to solve the mystery of Dumb Starbucks — conceptual artist Marc Horowitz even claimed the art as his own — Nathan Fielder revealed the store was a stunt for his Comedy Central show. In Nathan for You, Fielder tried to help struggling companies and people, offering them outlandish and stupid strategies to grow their businesses.
Here’s a clip from his show:
3.That time the New York Times thought Obama’s cover on Tiger Beat helped his popularity with the young crowd.
Yep, it’s The Onion. Before the article was called out as obviously a joke and taken down, commenters on the site were really getting fired up. “This should be enough to have him removed from office immediately……he is now the highest security risk to this nation,” Obamababble observed.
In 2002, the BBC posted a story titled “Blondes ‘to die out in 200 years.’” The New York Times looked into the study, and could not find any proof it ever existed. Soon after, the World Health Organization issued a statement clarifying that it had not undertaken the blonde gene study. So who perpetrated this hoax? We’re still not sure, but it was possibly a misunderstanding of the concept of recessive genes.
In 1912, from a gravel pit at Piltdown, East Sussex, England, Charles Dawson told the world he discovered Darwin’s missing link between apes and humans: the Piltdown Man. The culprit of he most famous paleoanthropological hoax was likely Martin A. C. Hinton, a paleontologist who was looking to discredit his boss, Arthur Smith Woodward. Hinton was apparently known for his practical jokes. At the time, the finding was widely publicized. It took more than 30 years before the Piltdown Man was revealed to be nothing more than a modern human cranium and orangutan jaw with filed-down teeth.
Nathan Fielder strikes again. For the first season of his show Nathan for You, Fielder staged a viral video that was facetiously intended to draw business to a petting zoo. The video got picked up by nearly every media outlet.
Ryan Holiday, author of Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator, spent several months in 2012 responding to media requests for everything from working at Burger King and weatherizing boats to collecting vinyls. Why did he do it? Just to prove he could. People love teaching the media lessons.
In 1976, media hoax artist Joey Skaggs pulled off one of his craziest stunts yet. After posting an ad in the Village Voice advertising his “Cat House for Dogs,” the media coverage started rolling in. Then ABC did a documentary on dog bordello, alerting various organizations to the illegal activity. After the ASPCA and Attorney General got involved, Skaggs revealed the prank. As recently as 2002, the producer of the ABC story still claimed the dog cathouse was not a hoax.
Joey Skaggs has an insanely long list of media pranks.
— BGTA (@BGTA) February 20, 2013
“A bizarre craze for stuffing a pet cat into a jar seems to be growing in popularity with dozens of owners posted photos online,” wrote the Daily Mail in early 2014. The joke site prompted hundreds of people to write to MIT asking that the site be shut down.
In 1995, Fox aired lost footage from a 1947 autopsy of an alien in Roswell, New Mexico. Although even at the time, many suspected this was a hoax, Fox decided to leave that part out in favor of ratings. The footage was broadcast in more than 33 countries. In 2006, the video’s producer, Ray Santilli, finally admitted to Sky news that the whole thing had been a fabrication. Others followed suit. Santilli still claims that the footage is not so much faked as it is a “restoration” of other footage he had viewed in the early ’90s that had subsequently deteriorated.
So remember, next time you hear a story that sounds too crazy to be true, better run.