Digital Life
5:02 pm
Sat December 28, 2013

The Internet Hoaxes That Had Us All Clicking For More

Originally published on Sat December 28, 2013 6:54 pm

From fake tweets to feigned poverty, the Internet was ablaze with hoaxes in 2013. Tess Lynch reported on the "rise of the hoax economy" for Grantland, calling out the biggest dupes of the year.

Lying isn't new, but the nature of the lies is changing, Lynch writes: "Our focus has shifted from the amusing to the emotional."

The emotional stories draw many in, including the media.

"I think what it says is that we still haven't figured out how to navigate consuming news online," she tells NPR's Arun Rath. "Sometimes it's harmless and fun, but then other times — especially when crowd-funding comes into play — it gets a little icky."

Here are three of her highlights:

Waitress Gets Extra Tips

New Jersey waitress Dayna Morales posted a picture of a receipt with an anti-gay comment — and no tip — on Facebook. The online community rallied to her side, donating thousands of dollars. But the customers later came forward and shared their copy of the receipt, which did include a tip and did not have the negative note.

Stuck On A Plane

On a Thanksgiving flight, television producer Elan Gale captivated his Twitter followers with accounts of a rude passenger named Diane. He even roped in news outlets. Alas, Diane was a figment of his imagination.

"This one was the one that totally got me," Lynch says. "It kind of got to the point where everyone was watching it like a reality show ... It seemed so intricate that it really didn't occur to many people that he could just be making it up. And why would he?"

The Half-Cat

Amid a constant deluge of cat memes, one cat photo tricked some into thinking it was real. A photo of a two-legged "half cat" turned out to be an altered image of a four-legged feline.

No, we don't all need to become hardened cynics, Lynch says. Her advice: "I think what it's really about is tempering that emotional response and adding a little bit of the rational response that we kind of have in our normal lives, where you take a person and you consider that person's motivations as being very layered."

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Thanks for listening. It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

A lot of people and some news organizations were fooled by Internet hoaxes this year. From that twerking girl who caught on fire to the TV producer going to war with the rude lady in seat 7A to the not-very-poor blogger who so eloquently wrote about living in poverty. So many of these stories have taken hold, 2013 has been called the year of the Internet hoax.

If you've been taken in, take heart. Grantland writer Tess Lynch says you are not alone.

TESS LYNCH: Well, I think what it says is that we still haven't figured out how to navigate consuming news online because everyone really contributes to the stream of news online. It's not just reporters and bloggers.

RATH: Right.

LYNCH: So I think what it says is that everyone is really susceptible to this. And sometimes it's harmless and fun, but then other times, especially when, you know, crowd-funding comes into play, it gets a little icky.

RATH: And that was one of the icky ones particularly. That was - I'm thinking of the waitress who posted a picture of a receipt in which she had been basically stiffed on a tip.

LYNCH: Mm-hmm. Yes. I think when she got the receipt, I don't exactly recall what was in the margins, but they did explicitly write that they disagreed with her lifestyle. And because of that, they refused to tip her. And when she posted this on the Have A Gay Day Facebook page, people were outraged and ended up donating thousands of dollars to her. But when the couple came forward, they had their own copy - the customer copy of the receipt, and that indicated a 20 percent tip and no mean note.

RATH: There's - I feel like there's kind of an interesting new adjustment happening here where when the Internet first was becoming an important source of news, maybe 15-odd years ago, I remember when the Drudge Report was hitting the scene and a lot of people in the news business were wondering, well, how do we report on stuff that's coming up on Drudge. And over time, news organizations have kind of figured it out. But it feels like all of a sudden, it's fresh again. People are getting taken in all over again.

LYNCH: Yes. Well, I think there is an adrenaline rush from that. I'm thinking now of the one that kind of drew me in the most was a man named Elan Gale who's a producer for "The Bachelor."

RATH: Right.

LYNCH: Yes. This one was the one that totally got me. It kind of got to the point where everyone was watching it like a reality show, which, obviously, Gale knows very well. And it seemed so intricate that it really didn't occur to many people that he could just be making it up. And why would he? And I think it was maybe Monday morning - this happened over Thanksgiving - he revealed it to be a hoax. And there was this strange feeling of emptiness.

RATH: Right. And, you know, what's funny is I myself have experienced a kind of overcorrection to my responses to these things so that when - remember Batkid...

LYNCH: Oh, yeah.

RATH: ...when that was happening, you know, the Make-a-Wish Foundation let this boy with an illness become Batkid for a day. And I assumed that was a hoax. I assumed we were going to find out that, no, it was, like, some awful, you know, story. But, no, it was actually a nice, lovely story about Batkid.

LYNCH: I mean, all of the, you know, meme kind of cats, the Grumpy Cat and Lil' Bub - all of those cats and how strange looking they are became this sort of thing of like, look at the funny animals. And then this year, there was a cat walking on its two hind legs. It was called the Half Cat.

RATH: The Half Cat, right.

LYNCH: Yes. And it was - it seemed obvious to me that that was fake, but at the same time, there are so many strange-looking cats.

RATH: And then somebody put up a video of an actual real half-cat. I mean, not quite as strange as that, but it was a cat that just had two front legs, and it was real.

LYNCH: A subpar half -at but a half-cat technically, yes.

RATH: Yeah. Well, and do you think, though, with the proliferation of these things that it's just going to turn everyone into cynics? We'll all get desensitized?

LYNCH: I don't think so. I think what it's really about is tempering that emotional response and adding a little bit of the rational response that we kind of have in our normal lives, where you take a person and you consider that person's motivations as being very layered.

RATH: Tess Lynch is a writer for Grantland, where she writes about the Internet. Tess, thanks for coming in today.

LYNCH: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.