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.
Image: 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.
3. Facebook Privacy Notice & Paid Use Fee
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.
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.
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.
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.
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].”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
If it sounds too good to be true, or too BAD to be true, it usually is. Not always, but thankfully it’s mostly like that!!
I agree with Chris, I had some doubt about the day trader story but then again, in today’s world people seem to be making millions out of nothing.
That’s a great point Mikell. Sometimes it can be really difficult to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction.
There are some really great stories that sound too good to be true, but really are. We definitely have to be on alert.
Love this list of the top 15 hoaxes of 2014! I have to admit: I check the iReport website daily, and I saw the supposed-NASA asteroid story. I bought it hook, line, and sinker! The story even found it’s way onto a few larger news sites before CNN pulled it down. Yikes! They had egg on their face, didn’t they? Haha. Now I’m going to have to find the “Alex from Target” video. Somehow I never saw that one! So, thanks for the heads up. 🙂
I really enjoyed this list too Annie.
Isn’t it nuts when some of those fake stories get major traction?
There’s no way to tell how many people actually believe it and become effected by it.
Annie, I am right there with you! I fell for a few of these hoaxes ‘hook, line, and sinker’ as well.
With social media, and internet news only poised to become more and more popular, I assume we will soon see even more large news organizations reporting things & then retracting with a whole lot of egg on their collective faces.
This is the best list I’ve came across to round up a year of hoaxes. Each and every hoax listed above I literally remember seeing gradually over the year, some were easy to spot as hoaxes, some a little more difficult. Possibly, my favourite hoax was the iPhone iOS8 one… To be able to convince people to put their brand new phones in the microwave with the pretence that it charges your phone was absolutely unbelievable!
Thanks for the awesome article Casey M and I look forward to many more articles in the future!
YES! That iPhone story was insane!
It absolutely amazes me to think that people are willing to do some of the most impractical things.
It doesn’t take rocket science to figure out that electronic devices and microwaves do not mix…under any circumstances.
I couldn’t agree more! I cannot imagine how gullible a person must be to place an iPhone into a microwave & think that anything good could possibly happen.
Needless to say, the continued growth of online & social media is only going to further expose those who are incapable of rational thought & common sense!
Like you, I look forward to many more future posts.
Wow!! I can’t believe I fell for the one about a “17-year old day trader and the one about the child being tossed out of KFC”. I was so inspired by the story about the day trader that I was actually considering doing some day trading myself, well…I clearly this is a good example not to believe everything you read. Imagine the money I would have lost, phew!! dodged the bullet there 🙂 and as always awesome article. You saved me from making a huge mistake. Thanks 🙂
I think our desire to earn fast money can make us very susceptible to stories (real or fake) that tend to make us think that what someone else did is something we can replicate and profit from too. Perhaps that’s just human nature, in some aspects.
Thankfully you didn’t make that move or lose any money in the process.
I must have been under a rock during the whole ’17-year-old Day Trader’ hoax because this is the first I’ve even heard of that one.
I do remember the story about the poor child being booted out of a KFC due to her wounds/scars. I didn’t truly believe it at first, and then when it came out that it was confirmed as a hoax I was completely disgusted at the lengths some people will go to just to be able to say ‘gotcha!’.
In my opinion, there should be penalties for people who create hoaxes like this that result in funds being raised, etc. It’s simply a form of fraud!
WOW! These are some of the wildest hoaxes I’ve ever heard of.
It amazes me the types of things people think of. With all of the new reports that come out daily, it can be challenging to decipher what’s real from what’s a hoax. Discernment is imperative.
Thanks a lot for sharing!
I always love to read through internet hoaxes, and this list of the top 15 hoaxes of 2014 was, at times, both hilarious & concerning.
First, as a girl who grew up with a crush on Marty McFly, I have to admit that I was lured into the Hover Board hoax… I think I actually jumped up and yelled, “Finally!” when I first watched the YouTube video! Needless to say, my excitement was quickly deflated as the truth leaked out.
The Louisville Purge hoax, to me, was concerning. I’m glad that the authorities reacted so quickly to uncover exactly what was going on. However, what’s concerning to me is that it is probably only a matter of time before one of these ‘fun to pull off’ hoaxes is taken seriously & put into action by unstable individuals… Just a thought.
Overall, this was an entertaining read.. Thanks for posting it!
I had a great time reading through this list. Very entertaining.
I have always been a very skeptical person, so I am happy to say that I didn’t fall victim to any of these hoaxes of the 2014… With so much junk reported daily online, I always try to dig into things on my own before getting too worked up about anything.
However, as a teacher, I do remember having a discussion with a few of my students about the European microchip hoax on more than one occasion. With everything going on in the world today, I have to admit that this was the one hoax that I felt could possibly be true… to a certain extent. In fact, it’s probably not too far off that this will happen in some form or another. We’ll see!
I’ve got a question is Ebola a hoax????? Check it..I haven’t heard anything about that for at least 4 to 5 months I mean just all the sudden it was forgot about….. I bet it’s a hoax
the main stream, front page media stopped reporting about it because their ratings started slipping. when ratings slip the company looses money. thats why the news seams to be over run with shock value news, shootings, end of the world stuff, fake reality shows, anything that evokes an extreme emotional response gets air time.
I’m a highly skeptical person, and even I fell for an April Fools Day internet scam a couple of years ago. What scares me is that these things are so convincing, and that so many people will believe anything and then totally freak out about it. Like you said – don’t believe anything you read on the net until you’ve backed it up with several other sources.