Welcome back to Can't Handle the Truth, our Saturday column looking at the past seven days of fake news and hoaxes that have spread thanks to the internet.
This week, anonymous sources let slip to the Washington Post that Twitter is considering adding a feature that lets users flag posts as fake. I think we all know people would abuse this feature if it existed, because everyone defines fake news differently.
Was it fake news last week, when CNN wrongly tied Trump appointee Anthony Scaramucci to a Senate investigation into Russian financial impropriety? When you consider that CNN apologized, retracted the story, and even fired the journalists involved, it's hard to put that in the same category as a hoax. Was it fake news for a bunch of Donald Trump's golf clubhouses to feature fake Time magazine covers with the commander in chief's face on them? That seems more like ridiculous vanity than an actual attempt to spread falsehoods.
Fake news can't be defined because it's a rich tapestry, created by many hands, for myriad reasons, and draped over the world. Here's a sampling of the beauty created this week by the world's hoax artisans. Please take a moment to appreciate the fine craftsmanship of these lies.
The Creator of a Cryptocurrency Is Dead
On Sunday, some 4chan shitposter falsely claimed that Vitalik Buterin, the 23-year-old creator of Ethereum, had died in a car crash. Ethereum, for those who don't know, is a new, feature-rich cryptocurrency without some of the limitations and frustrations Bitcoin users dislike. Buterin later used an incredibly geeky method I don't understand to prove he's alive.
But the rumor had come at a time when the value of Ethereum was already on the decline, so the fake news turned that decline into a flash crash, ultimately causing $4 billion in value to disappear. Ethereum had been trading about $415 per token earlier in June and at its lowest point on Sunday night, it had dropped to $13. The price has since gone back up, and seems to have stabilized, albeit at a slightly lower value than where it was earlier in June.
All Whataburgers Are Closing
Whataburger is a Texas-based chain of burger restaurants, though coastal elites only know about Whataburger from the references to it in the book Infinite Jest, which I have read because I am a soulful and intelligent man. According to a fake news story someone created two months ago, all Whataburger locations are about to close their doors next year. On Wednesday, the story exploded in popularity, earning 277,688 Facebook shares and prompting Whataburger to tweet, "This article is a hoax, and we aren't going anywhere."
The story was created using Channel45News, a quick and dirty web application anyone can use to generate a social media frame that resembles credible news (it's not hard to imitate, sadly). "We do NOT support FAKE NEWS!!! This is a Prank website that is intended for Fun," it says at the bottom of the page.
The entity that makes these fake news generators has multiple site mirrors (in case one goes down maybe?) that just change the number in the middle—Channel22News, etc. I used one of these on Thursday to create a fake story claiming that the planet Uranus is being renamed "Doodoo World," but it didn't really take off on social media. I guess I'm not cut out to be a fake news creator.
A Fireworks-Loving Kid Roasted a TV News Reporter
This week, Ted Pretty of Fox 5 Las Vegas was shooting a puff piece for the local news about Fourth of July fireworks stands. When he asked a tween boy what kind of fireworks were the best, he answered with, "Wouldn't you like to know, weather boy?" Wow! Imagine the cojones on that kid! The video has 640,508 views on YouTube as of this writing, and made it to the front page of Digg.
Ah, but it's all a joke. Petty has implied that the kid was his son, and his past tweets confirm that the two have attended a football game together. At best, it's a kid being a dick to his dad in a weird tone of voice, but more likely it's a father and son goofing around, which you may say is still funny, but not as funny as a kid roasting a news guy on live TV for no reason.
Brad Pitt Is a Conspiracy Theorist Now
A publication called Neon Nettle claimed on Wednesday that Brad Pitt had delivered a searing indictment of the Hollywood system. Pitt ostensibly said, "You've heard of the Illuminati right? The secret societies, the politicians, the bankers and the media—they're the ones running these pedophile rings, and they're the ones that run the world, and it all goes back to Hollywood."
As the good folks at Snopes have pointed out, Neon Nettle also ran a story called "All Americans Will Receive a Microchip Implant in 2017," so their unsourced claim that Brad Pitt said this stuff is pretty questionable to say the least. But the hoax comes at a time of growing interest in these Pizzagate-style conspiracies about the powerful elite having child sex slaves.
Robert David Steele, a guest on Alex Jones's Infowars claimed on Thursday that NASA is now in on the child sex game too. "This may strike your listeners as way out, but we actually believe that there is a colony on Mars that is populated by children who were kidnapped and sent into space on a 20 year ride. So that once they get to Mars they have no alternative but to be slaves on the Mars colony."
NASA told the Daily Beast on Thursday that there aren't enslaved children on Mars, because "there are no humans" on Mars.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.