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Top 15 Internet Hoaxes of 2014

January 27, 2015

Edgar Allan Poe, writing in the short story “The System of Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether,” once said to believe “nothing you hear, and only one-half that you see.” That story was published in 1845, but going on two centuries later, most Internet users still haven’t gotten the message.

That’s why you see so many scams and hoaxes populate your Facebook feed and why many once-respected journalism outlets have been duped by tech-savvy pranksters. Many times doing a little research before sharing something will save one the embarrassment of spreading — or worse, publishing — misinformation. It certainly would have helped in the below cases. Without further ado, we give you the Top 15 Internet Hoaxes of 2014.

1. Legal Drinking Age Changed to 25

In June 2014, most individuals looking forward to their 21st birthday blowout got a rude awakening as a news story — seemingly from ABC News — started making the rounds on the web claiming that the legal drinking age would be changed to 25 starting August 2.

Minimum drinking ages are established by the states (but practically all honor the 21 minimum) so those who knew anything about the law were immediately suspicious. The hoax was started by a site then known as Sunday Times Daily (now Nipsy’s News) that allows users to create their own false news stories. If people clicked through to read the story, they were greeted with a picture of Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) and a message telling them they’d been duped along with the number of others who fell for it.

Lesson: Don’t believe stuff you read on the Internet without first checking multiple sources.

Legal Drinking Age Changed to 25 Hoax GraphicImage: Ecumenical News

2. The Hoverboard Is Real!

Some of the less reputable gadget sites on the web (along with millions of YouTubers) instantly fell for this expertly put-together video from Funny Or Die. However, when some of the more reputable sites did their due diligence, they discovered that HUVr was a phony company and from there, the story unraveled quickly.

It’s certainly hard to blame viewers for taking the bait. The idea of hoverboards first appeared in Back to the Future Part II, and FOD was able to get one of the film’s stars, Christopher Lloyd, along with many other celebrities (Terrell Owens, Moby, Tony Hawk) to demonstrate a convincing board in action. Only thing was, they’d taken out the cranes and wires in post-production.

To date, the original video, entitled “BELIEF,” has had more than 15.5 million views.

HUVr's Hoverboard Hoax Graphic

Image: YouTube

3. Facebook Privacy Notice & Paid Use Fee

Every time Facebook updates its privacy policy, it seems like a new round of users angrily post a “notice” on their statuses that seeks to claim copyright over their photos, videos, writings, etc. In 2014, the company updated again, and sure enough, the posts followed.

Of course, the attempt has no legal standing since users cannot change the terms of the user agreement they agreed to upon joining the social networking site but that hasn’t stopped the uninformed. Even lengthy debunking stories like this one from cNet hasn’t stopped the madness.

Facebook users also fell for a hoax in September 2014 that claimed the site would start charging users $2.99 per month to access their profiles and make updates. Not true.

Facebook Privacy Notice Hoax Graphic

Image: PC Advisor

4. Head & Shoulders and Trypophobia

Trypophobia isn’t recognized by the medical community, but across the Internet, it is used to describe one’s fear of small, clustered holes. The “condition,” which usually leads to the afflicted clawing at their skin due to the psychological coercion of grotesque, usually-Photoshopped images, has been around since 2003. However, it enjoyed a rebirth in June 2014 when a Facebook scam started making the rounds claiming Head & Shoulders caused a hideous growth on someone’s shoulder.

“You will NOT use Head & Shoulders shampoo after watching…” reads the headline. Above that is the dream-haunting image with a play button in the center. If users click it, they are taken to a scam that, according to Snopes:

“is to serve as a lure in leading users to yet another survey scam: those who click through on the teaser link hoping to view the Head & Shoulders video are instead taken to a screen that forces them to first share the link with others on Facebook and/or verify their age by completing a survey that promises a $100 VISA Gift Card for its completion.”

The video doesn’t exist, although the continued promise of it does, provided the user continues to take surveys and fritter away their privacy info. The image is also faked — a mashup of a person’s shoulder and a lotus seed.

Head & Shoulders and Trypophobia Hoax Graphic

Image: Snopes

5. Macaulay Culkin Is Dead, and So Are A Lot Of Other Celebrities

Macaulay Culkin, star of the first two Home Alone movies, has kept a low profile since his child stardom. But the Internet brought him back in a big way in 2014 with another of its infamous death hoaxes. Culkin, who is part of the band The Pizza Underground, took it in stride, posting a photo to Instagram labeled, “‘Weekend at Bernies’ with @anchovywarhol #greenroom.”

It showed a bandmate carrying around a “deceased” Culkin trying to convince everyone his “boss” was still alive, as in the referenced film. Though Culkin’s “death” picked up a lot of traction on social media and news sites, it was hardly unique.

Here’s a brief (and incomplete) list of the celebrities who were targeted with a death hoax in 2014: actors Jim Carrey, Wayne Knight (Newman on Seinfeld), Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jennifer Lopez, Lou Ferrigno (from TV’s Incredible Hulk), Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy), Andrew Lincoln (Rick Grimes on The Walking Dead), Betty White; and singers Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, and Axl Rose.

Macaulay Culkin Death Hoax Graphic

Image: Naskah-Drama

6. KFC Tosses out Mauled 3-Year-Old for ‘Disturbing the other Customers’

Kelly Mullins, the grandmother of 3-year-old Victoria, claimed in June 2014 that a KFC in Jackson, Mississippi, had asked her and her granddaughter to leave because the child’s looks were “disturbing the other customers.”

At first, the story won sympathy and thousands of dollars in donations. Victoria’s wounds were real, and they were received in a three-dog pit bull attack. But when it was revealed to be a hoax after police could find no video records of the incident on surveillance footage at the restaurant, sentiment turned.

The crowdfunding page was taken down, donations were refunded, and the Facebook page that initially reported the incident, entitled “Victoria’s Victories,” was inundated with hateful comments until it, too, was removed, the Clarion-Ledger reports.

KFC Mauled Girl Hoax Graphic

Image: Clarion-Ledger

7. The Miracle Machine Instant Winemaker

The Miracle Machine “literally turns water into wine with just the addition of a few ingredients.” Just add yeast and the appropriate concentrates, wait three days, and voila!, the taste of Napa Valley is yours to enjoy for a fraction of the price.

These were the claims made in a March 2014 viral video. Unfortunately, it was a marketing scheme ran by a company that sold wine to fund clean-water projects in third-world countries. Noble cause, but as one YouTuber pointed out, “If you think lying to people is the right way to go about a charity then I say – go to [you get the picture].”

Instant Winemarker Machine Hoax Graphic

Image: YouTube

8. Alex from Target

“Alex from Target” was a rather interesting viral hoax in that Target had nothing to do with it. No, his Twitter popularity was organic and began after an admiring customer snapped a pic and tweeted him out to her followers.

But what was a hoax was the online marketing company that tried to swoop in and claim credit after the fact, the Washington Post reports. The company’s name was Breakr, and while they are still active in this market, Alex, his teen admirer, and the red-dotted retailer had no clue who these guys were.

In a rare moment of Internet authenticity, Alex’s viral popularity was completely legitimate.

Alex from Target Hoax

Image: Beyond Social Media

9. The Louisville Purge

A teen in Louisville, Kentucky — inspired by the successful horror sequel The Purge: Anarchy — decided it would be fun to tweet about doing a real-life “Purge,” in which for 24 hours, teens of America banded together and carried out any kind of violent act they wanted, as seen in the film.

Twitter quickly made the idea explode, sending adults across America into a panic and causing concealed carry gun-nuts to lick their chops at the opportunity for a justified shooting range. Law enforcement officials investigated the claims throughout Louisville and, soon, linked it to the unnamed teen.

Police in other regions followed up as well, but each “planned, organized date” came and went without incident.

Louisville Purge Hoax Graphic

Image: G33KWatch

10. Mohammed Islam, 17-Year-Old Day Trader

Mohammed Islam had Wall Street scratching its head when news broke that he’d been able to amass a $72 million fortune day-trading on his lunch breaks at school.

Some of the more business-savvy were able to run the computations and determine his earnings were impossible, but not before he enjoyed quite a bit of publicity from news outlets that hadn’t dug as deeply as they should have on his claims.

Business Insider has a rather lengthy expose on how Islam was able to scam some of New York’s best and brightest media types for as long as he did.

Mohammed Islam Daytrading Hoax Graphic

Image: Business Insider

11. CNN and The End Of The World

No, we’re not talking about the “End of the World” video that CNN created for the sole purpose of its last broadcast should Earth fade or be blasted from existence. That video is very real, and you can watch it here.

But CNN did find itself at the center of an end-of-the-world hoax in May 2014 when its citizen journalism channel, iReport, allowed a member to post that NASA had confirmed a deadly asteroid would hit earth on March 35, 2041.

CNN later took down the story but not before NASA and numerous media outlets latched on and had a field day with it.

CNN and The End Of The World Hoax Graphic

Image: Jalopnik

12. iOS 8 WAVE, As In ‘Microwave’

Unfortunately, some people will try anything if they read it on the Internet. That makes pranking these individuals too tempting, and 4Chan was only too happy to oblige when it came up with iOS 8 WAVE.

This was supposedly an Apple-approved iPhone charging technique in which you simply place your device in the microwave and start it up. While most were too smart to fall for it, Twitter was alive with examples of those who did.

Not surprisingly, when you do cook an iPhone in the microwave, it does exactly what you might expect (see image).

iOS 8 WAVE, As In ‘Microwave’ Hoax Graphic

Image: Alwasat

13. Kane Zipperman Breaks-up with Cheating Girlfriend through Memes

Kane Zipperman became a hero to every man who was ever cheated on by his wife or girlfriend when he posted a supposedly legitimate text exchange where he tells his ex off using Internet memes. The ruse shot his follower count up over 88,000 within days! (view full exchange here).

But, eventually, the Daily Dot got wise to him and posted an in-depth article showing how he did it. The truth didn’t come, however, before he made headlines and even appeared on a national TV morning show.

Cheating Girlfriend Meme Graphic

Image: Twitter

14. European Newborns will be Implanted with RFID Chips at Birth

Since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed Congress, it has heightened fears of government intrusion into the lives of many. Those fears drifted to Europe in January 2014 when a hoax news story emerged claiming that European Union regulations would require all newborns to be implanted with RFID chips at birth beginning in May of 2014.

Snopes blames the disreputable news site Top Info Post for propagating the rumor, which has its roots in the 2010 emails claiming similar actions as a result of the ACA.

Since the May 2014 date has came and went and still no RFID chipping, Top Info Post has changed its disproven claim to becoming effective December 2016.

European Newborns RFID Chips Hoax

Image: The Epoch Times

15. FBI Admits Sandy Hook Hoax

Of the hoaxes of 2014 that have been thoroughly debunked, perhaps the most heinous is one that claims the twenty plus souls who lost their lives in the December 2012 massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut, elementary school were all part of an elaborate government hoax designed to take guns away from Americans.

Hoax believers point out that the FBI reported no murders for that year, but they fail to realize that unless crimes cross over into federal jurisdiction, they’re reported by the states where they occurred. Snopes published a more thorough takedown of each Sandy Hook hoax claim — there are many — in September 2014.

Still, the “shocking revelations” continue to turn up on Facebook, usually from gun rights websites and other ultra-conservative blogs.

Sandy Hook FBI Hoax Graphic

Image: DavidDicke.com

Do you remember these or any other elaborate hoaxes from 2014 not included here? Share in our comments section, and while you’re at it, tell us here at The Reeves Law Group in your experience, which hoax seemed to attract the most believers.

Posted by Casey Markee at 8:11 am - 18 comments
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