Antiviral: Here's What's Bullshit on the Internet This Week

Who really believes an entire country has the same haircut? Or that you're going to suddenly be able to float for five minutes next week? Because it doesn't and you're not. Mix up a fresh wineshake. Let's look at the bullshit on the internet this week.

No, you're not going to float for five minutes on April 4

Apparently there are a bunch of people who believe that maybe—just maybe!—you'll be able to float in the air for five minutes on April 4, 2014, because of some weird planetary alignment that will temporarily alter the Earth's gravitational pull.

Hopefully your reaction is something like: Hahahahawüüüütadsfaefuhbaewkf. Because, uh, no. You guys. Gravity's still a thing, and will continue to be a thing, which is really good for us because I would like to continue to be bolted to the Earth as it rotates at hundreds of miles per hour, please.

So this whole no-gravity-for-five-minutes hoax is a repeat. Phil Plait over at Slate breaks down why this is seriously (still) not happening so just stop sharing it already.


No, everyone in North Korea probably isn't getting Kim Jong-un's haircut

Maaaaybe they are? But, really, probably not.

Look. It's hard to know what's actually going on in North Korea, which has a tightly controlled state-run media and keeps the rest of the world out. So it's best to be skeptical about any news you hear about the country rather than just assuming it's true, cough, New York Daily News, cough. (Outstanding Photoshop job, though.)

NK News, a website that covers North Korea, is right to be skeptical.

"We were in the country last week and saw no one with said haircut" it quoted tour guide Gareth Johnson as having said. Johnson was in North Korea earlier this month, according to NK News.

I caught up with Denny Roy, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu who focuses on North Korea. Roy's disclaimer: "I'm not in a position to confirm whether it's true or not. There's a constant flow of rumors coming out of North Korea, a lot of which turn out to be not true." (See also: the story that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un fed his uncle to starving dogs.) But Roy also says there's clearly a push for people to worship North Korean leaders, "this cult of personalty, making them supernatural."

"So people wanting to get the haircut is fairly believable to me," Roy told me. "Have they been ordered to do it? I'd say that's possible. But on the other hand, from the government's point of view, why would you want to do that? You want the leader to be special, distinctive, set apart in a way. Not everybody can be him. Not everybody can be like him."

The Associated Press, which in 2012 became the first outside international news organization with a full-time bureau in Pyongyang, says its reporter in North Korea hasn't noticed anyone with the haircut, and called the haircut story "another imaginative but uncorroborated rumor."

Again, Roy: "North Korea is extremely vulnerable to bizarre rumors. Because North Korea does some stuff that we consider to be bizarre, and the lack of transparency nurtures stories."

Bottom line: It's extremely difficult to get reliable information about what's really going on in North Korea. And just reporting something as maybe true because you can't say for sure it's false is bullshit journalism.


No, rats aren't taking over the world

City dwellers see rats all the time. There are roughly infinity rats in New York City alone, and there's probably one gnawing on an old shoelace 20 feet away from you right now.

But that doesn't mean they're literally everywhere. So when people on Reddit started to question this Wikipedia map of brown-rat distribution around the world, The Atlantic Cities consulted a rat expert at The Smithsonian. Turns out this image is oversimplified, making the global rat population look much scarier than it actually is.

Antiviral: Here's What's Bullshit on the Internet This Week

Even though there are rats living outside of big cities, they're really not hanging out in much of Central Africa, South America, tropical Asia, or Australia, according to The Atlantic Cities. Also apparently rat-free is Alberta, Canada, despite a few stragglers over the years.


Hot Tech Today, though...

"We make tech sexy," promises the new website Hot Tech Today next to an image of a woman with her underpants around her ankles. The sexism problem in the tech industry is pretty well documented but the launch of a tech magazine with pinup girls who read editorials and hooks like "how to play video games and not lose your girlfriend" seemed over the top.

The reaction among a lot of people who pay attention to this kind of thing: It has to be a parody, right? Right?!

Maybe not. Founder Erica Williams responded to my email saying the site is "100% legit." And according to public documents filed in Arizona, Hot Tech Today really is an LLC affiliated with a weekly bilingual newspaper called Asian American Times. The 2012-registered company is in good standing, according to the Arizona Secretary of State.

"I think what stemmed the parody rumors is the picture on our website," Williams told me in an email. "Shocking as some may view it, none of the models in Hot Tech Today are nude."

I'm not sure what the absence of nudity has to do with parody but the whole thing still seems a little off.

Both Williams and co-founder Dave Kelley have sparse Twitter presences, which is unusual for tech startup founders. Williams has a brand new Twitter account and a LinkedIn profile with just Hot Tech Today on it. (She told me she worked in photography for 10 years before founding the site, although this site calls Erica Williams an actress and uses the same photo that is the avatar for her LinkedIn profile.)

Kelley's still an egg on Twitter, but he appears to have a Facebook page and a website for his photography business. Hot Tech Today has its own Twitter account, which has been up and running since 2011 but seems kinda spammy.

Antiviral: Here's What's Bullshit on the Internet This Week

Some of the people listed as writers for Hot Tech Today have slightly longer internet trails. There's Alex Carvallo, who is listed as a writer for the site and apparently was promoting Hot Tech Today on Facebook and Twitter last year.

Antiviral: Here's What's Bullshit on the Internet This Week

Another writer, Patrick J. Worden, has a Facebook page and apparently has been a freelance writer and self-published novelist since 1998. Someone with that name runs this blog, which introduced Hot Tech Today back in 2012: "Yet another tech blog, you're saying. Oh, no. Not at all. This is something new entirely. I won't spoil the surprise, will instead urge you to head on over there and see for yourself. Here's one hint, though: eye candy."

I emailed Worden to ask about the site. His response. "I assure you, it's no parody. It's a new monthly interactive digital magazine that embraces all things tech, and all things beautiful." Worden says he's aware of the "controversy brewing" about the site, and called the pinup-type photos a way to capture the tech communities "brains, and their hearts."

"Although the photos are a big part of our offering, and no doubt a big part of our appeal, we're equally proud of our writing, and our next-generation user experience," he wrote.

But the actual content on the Hot Tech Today site seems weirdly bot-written and is overrun with spam commenters. Even if this thing is for real, it's hard to figure out who the audience is.

Hot Tech Today is definitely a legitimate company, registered in the state of Arizona. And if its founders are trolling us in an elaborate multi-year hoax, they haven't admitted it yet. In the meantime, this pretty much sums up reaction:


And, yes, wineshakes are a thing. Wineshakes!

Well, huh. Okay. Red Robin really is selling a frothy combo of milk and wine. How creative.

Antiviral: Here's What's Bullshit on the Internet This Week

If you want to get technical, it's really more of a milky jungle juice than a straight up wineshake—the concoction includes about a shot of liquor and three ounces of wine, according to the guy who answered my phone call at the Red Robin in Fairfax, Va.


Elsewhere on the internet, the president of the University of Maine at Farmington is still alive even though a bunch of people got an email saying she died.

This government headquarters in Germany is not really shaped like swastikas.

And nobody really cares if this clown is a hoax because RUN.


Antiviral is an occasional column in which we run downthe worst hoaxes, pranks, Photoshops and straight-out lies blowing up on the internet.