Don't Trust the Internet is a weekly column where we investigate all the bullshit tabloid stories, political memes and conspiracy hearsay that your mum is sharing on Facebook.
Okay, so disclaimer: I don't use Pokemon Go. I have no problem with anybody who does, but sadly I have neither the data nor the inclination to chase Jigglypuffs around Hornsey. However, there are some elements of its omnipresence that are starting to grate. None more than the totally, definitely, absolutely fake "Crazy Pokemon Go" stories.
There's a logic to this, of course. If a considerable percentage of the world's smartphone users suddenly start meandering around strange and hidden locations they're bound to, on occasion, stumble across strange and hidden things. A couple of big stories have been true – this girl finding a dead body sounds pretty legit, as does this Plymouth sex shop becoming a Pokestop – but in their wake they have inspired a dearth of fabricated Pokefables. Inspirational or cautionary tales of looking for Charmanders and finding love, or murder scenes, or adorable elderly people. It's a foolproof setup; there's no way of proving you're lying, and all you need is a weird location and kooky incident, and you've got a ready-made crazy Pokemon Go story.
Much in the vein of people pretending to be children for retweets, these stories must come from a thirst for viral recognition. A strange regressive urge found in grown-adults to be popular and lauded for capturing one of life's quirky moments. And for as long as Pokemon Go continues to be more popular than food, we can expect these outright lies to continue. Reddit upvotes, dude! Gotta catch em all!
WITNESSING A MURDER
Let's begin with the fakest of all the fake "crazy Pokemon Go" stories. If you can't be bothered to watch the entire video, it's basically a clip taken from a live stream of a YouTuber called Alex Ramirez playing Pokemon Go. Out of nowhere, in the middle of his game, he suddenly notices a truck pulling up outside the church where he was playing. At this point, Ramirez suddenly freaks because, "ohmygodohmygodohmygod" he's just seen the dude in the truck kill some chick. What follows is a thrilling audio sequence as he finds himself pursued by the murderer, before eventually calling the police to explain everything that had happened. Only, he didn't, because, of course, none of this happened.
This story was picked up initially by loads of places, mostly gaming blogs and tech sites including Gizmodo, as well as blowing up on Reddit. Since then, Ramirez's story has become weirder and weirder. The police got involved to say they believe the video is a fake; Ramirez has supposedly lost his job as an Uber driver (something Uber have denied); and at one point Ramirez even had a GoFundMe set up in his honour – since he got sacked and all – but now it's becoming more and more obvious he made the whole thing up, the campaign has disappeared.
The biggest giveaway that Ramirez is chatting absolute Pokeballs is his acting. If you're going to go one stage further with your fake story and actually record audio of "the incident" rather than just write it down and post it on Reddit, you've got to be able to convincingly capture exactly how a human being would likely respond to witnessing a murder. Ramirez literally says: "Why is there a random truck here at the church? Is this motherfucker playing Pokemon too? Oh my god! Huh! Oh my god! Holy shit! This guy just killed some chick! Oh my god! I just witnessed a fucking murder!" Not exactly kitchen sink realism is it.
THREATENED WITH MURDER
This small epic is currently one of the most popular on Reddit's very own "Crazy Pokemon Stories" subreddit. It follows an "average evening of Pokemon hunting" for three brothers who, following a disagreement over how many original Pokemon there were, find themselves the victims of homophobic slurs and death threats at the hands of some older lads and their over-zealous mum. The best part of the whole thing is the GCSE drama of how the initial confrontation plays out. Behold:
"You know, I had all the original 120 Pokemon when they came out."
Obviously he was exaggerating, but we cared more about him getting his numbers wrong.
Ralph corrected: "151."
"There were 151 original Pokemon."
You could cut the air with a knife, couldn't you? Proper old school stand-off, this. The sheer venom packed into that "huh". I'm shuddering reading it. I can see them now, the two packs of Pokemon hunters, like a version of West Side Story featuring an all-male cast of vloggers with baseball caps. The flick of a switch-blade when Ralph says, "There were 151 original Pokemon." The silence – the unending silence in which you could have heard a pin drop – preceding the absolute chaos that follows. And oh boy, what chaos. Thrown soda, cries of "faggot" and a mother so batshit crazy she threatens to run everybody over. All because some punk didn't know how many original Pokemon there were.
This is definitely fake, but that said, the actions of the mother remind me of the only Pokemon story I have. When I was nine years old I collected Pokemon cards. One afternoon a boy of a similar age who lived a few doors up from us came round to play. We were comparing cards and eventually agreed to swap three of his cards for one of mine – I think it was a Golem – based on their relative worth. He went home and I thought nothing more of it, until an hour later his mum came storming down the street and called me out quite publicly for conning her son out of three cards. I was forced to return them, without getting my Golem back. It was deeply humiliating and I have never forgiven the shitty mother or her shitty son.
Another one popular on tech blogs and Reddit, a YouTuber's run-in with a gun-wielding landowner is one of the more dramatic Pokemon Go incidents to hit the internet. As played out in the video above, the gag-inducingly named Lanceypooh got into a spot of bother when driving out into the middle of some backwoods somewhere in the dead of night. Everything goes awry when the plucky heroes leave their car and find themselves being yelled at by whoever owns the land it turns out they're trespassing on. The video of the incident currently has over 400,000 plays.
There's a line in Superbad that goes, "I'm sorry, Evan, that the Coen Brothers don't direct the porn that I watch." I'd like to imagine that if the Coen brothers ever do direct some porn, it will look a bit like this. A couple of hapless middle-American blokes, stranded out in the middle of nowhere, shaky handheld camera, gunshots.
The thing that makes these setups so obviously fake is just how performative everybody is during the build up. Not only is it an unholy coincidence that the whole thing was being filmed, but the two stooges involved behave like the worst kind of post-Will Ferrell YouTube comedian‚ squawking irate zingers at each other about "rural Pokemon" in a tone that screams, "God, I desperately hope my comedy vlog about tech takes off after people see how funny I am on this, because at this point I really have nothing left to give."
This story got picked up by both the New York Post and the Daily Mail, despite literally just being a vague anecdote about a breakup. This crazy Pokemon Go story goes as follows. "Gamer" Evan Scribner was canoodling with his ex-girlfriend behind his current girlfriend's back – something he would have got away with if it wasn't for Pokemon Go's pesky geolocation services. Scribner claims that due to the app recording his location – and when exactly he was at said location – his girlfriend was able to work out where he'd been due to him catching Pokemon in the neighbouring area. Poor old Evan says his girlfriend worked out he'd been spending time with his ex and hasn't spoken to him since.
There's definitely something fishy here. Besides the whole "your girlfriend isn't speaking to you but you're doing an interview with the New York Post" thing, surely this story would only be worth reporting if there was a shred of evidence it actually happened, as opposed to a "gamer" – not a job title, by the way – retelling an anecdote. I'm also surprised there weren't more obvious ways of catching him out, like, I don't know, text messages or phone calls. To have to go deep into somebody's Pokehistory seems like really taking the long way round.
No, most likely, this "story" was just a way for Evan Scribner to show off to the world about how often he gets laid. Man just wants you to know how big his Pokeballs are, basically.
One of the most popular rumours about Pokemon Go is that it is, in fact, a massive surveillance operation run by the CIA, or Google, or the NSA, or the Illuminati, or something. This theory has spread like wildfire across Facebook, and even movie director Oliver Stone has declared the game a "new level of invasion" that could lead to "totalitarianism". There are a few different versions of this story. One suggests that Pokemon Go is using your camera to deliver images of your home to Google Maps, but other reports go further, suggesting that the app could be feeding information to the CIA or the NSA.
In very, very basic terms it sort of makes sense. Pokemon Go is essentially a massive map of the world featuring real-time locations of whichever members of the population are playing at the time. But you've got to ask yourself: what exactly would the CIA want with that information? Surely a massive list of the whereabouts of everyone currently playing Pokemon Go is the most counter-productive data imaginable. That's basically a hard-drive full of all the least dangerous people on the planet. The people who run blogs about game consoles, the people who Instagram their pets, the people who go to comic book conventions. It's literally the antithesis of a most-wanted list.
Even then, it's not real. Snopes recently got in touch with Google to ask if this data was being collected – if Pokemon Go really was handing all of our personal information over to the government – and the answer was a resounding no.
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