Welcome to Antiviral, an occasional column in which we run down the worst hoaxes, pranks, Photoshops and straight-out lies blowing up on the internet.
Nothing is true anymore, everything's a hoax, and it's all the internet's fault.
Come onnnn. You don't really believe that, do you? Humans have always made up stories. And we've been manipulating photos since photography was invented.
The difference today is that so many of us have access to platforms with instantaneous publishing and republishing capabilities. This means that any one of us can distribute all kinds of information — from the purest of the true to the bullshittiest of the baloney — to global networks of people insatiable for information.
But the really good news is that this free-for-all publishing structure means bogus material gets called out for what it is faster and on a larger scale than ever. So it turns out that one of the defining mechanisms of internet culture is this shared search for authenticity. We stumble over the line between fact and fiction together and in real time.
Remember when a rare snowstorm in Egypt dusted the Sphinx with snow? Fake. Or when Hurricane Sandy flooded the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in three feet of water? Fake. That time Kim Jong-un fed his uncle to 120 hungry dogs? Fake, fake, fake.
People like to say that even if something's fake, it's real on the internet — which is basically just another way of saying "context is everything." It's also the kind of saying that could only emerge from a place where we're constantly trying to ferret out what's actually true from what isn't. Here are five things you may have seen online in recent days that you never should have believed.
No, this is not a real ad for Sansabelt action pants
This "vintage ad" has been ricocheting all over the web, delighting people with its absurdity. These pants have an "action zone" right where you think it ought to be! They even have an "extra large snack sack," which definitely sounds like something you'd want to have in your trousers.
There are a lot of gems to be found in newspaper and magazine archives, but this is not one of them. It's actually the work of illustrator John Ueland. He adapted a 1960s ad from Esquire magazine for a blog post he wrote in 2010.
"I am indeed the one responsible for that parody ad," Ueland told me in an email. "It's hilarious that people think it's one of the 'Ads that you can't believe actually ran' sort of things. I find myself questioning most articles I read nowadays after so many have ended up being cleverly written/designed parodies."
No, this military official’s name is not Général Arse Biscuités
Twitter has been sharing a good chuckle over the screenshot of a French military official apparently named Général Arse Biscuités.
As of this writing, that tweet been retweeted 6,713 times — including by journalists like Gene Weingarten. Though, to Weingarten's credit, he copped to his mistake almost immediately:
At least some of the internet had its sense of skepticism in check all along:
No, Rachael Ray did not cook and eat her family
Gleeful punctuation nerds have been tweeting this one for years — a comma-free cover of Tails that has been debunked again and again, but somehow keeps edging its way back into the spotlight. Here's the fake cover, on the left, next to the real one:
No, this is not a photo of a Syrian orphan who sleeps between his parents' graves
What was shared as a heartbreaking image portraying the loss of life in Syria is actually a staged photo by an artist.
And the photo was taken in Saudi Arabia, not in Syria, according to Harald Doornbos, who says in a blog post he was the first reporter to call photographer Abdul Aziz al Otaibi with questions about the photo.
Here, for reference, is a "backstage" photo from the shoot showing the boy laughing and flashing a peace sign in between what are supposed to be his parents' graves, posted to the Instagram account abdulaziz_099, which Doornbos says belongs to the photographer.
No, China is not broadcasting videos of sunsets because it's too smoggy to see the real thing
The list of news outlets that fell for this one is kind of astounding. Broken-bullshit detectors abound at CNN, CBS, TIME, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and several other organizations that reported or at least insinuated that a giant screen in Tiananmen Square broadcast a video of the sunrise because it was too smoggy to see the actual sun.
The truth: The screen is a digital billboard, and it wasn’t set up because of the smog. Here's an example of the landscape-heavy Shandong tourism advertising campaign that’s typically broadcast on the screen, courtesy of Mashable.