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Posted at 11:35 AM ET, 07/ 7/2010

Five entertainment-related Internet hoaxes that duped the public

By Jen Chaney

The "Back to the Future"/July 5, 2010 Internet hoax may be behind us. But America, this much is clear: we will be fooled again. Some other bit of clever Photoshoppery or genuine-looking viral video or seemingly credible celebrity rumor will pop up in our e-mail inboxes and, albeit briefly, convince us that what we see/read is true.

Lady Gaga: just one victim of the dreaded online hoax. (Reuters)

How do I know? For starters, because the Internet, digital seductress that she is, likes to mess with our minds. But more importantly, because it's happened so many times before.

As evidence of that fact, here's a rundown of five of the best celebrity and/or pop culture-related Internet hoaxes that successfully faked out at least some members of the Web-using public. Undoubtedly there are more great examples that fit in this category, so feel free to add your own selection for best online entertainment con jobs in the comments section.

Pauly Shore gets punched

This video, which made its way around the Web in 2006 and is filled with NSFW language, was believable for understandable reasons. Who among us, especially after sitting through all of "Son-in-Law," hasn't thought about punching Pauly Shore? The self-aware actor/comedian capitalized on that fact with a viral vid of him getting knocked out at a Texas comedy club.

Of course, he later revealed that the whole episode perfectly planned as a commentary on how gullible the Internet community can be, releasing a Making-of Pauly Shore Gets Knocked Out video to prove his point. Mission accomplished, bud-day.

False celebrity deaths

There have been so many Internet hoaxes in this category -- from Kanye West to Russell Crowe to Robert Pattinson to Zach Braff -- that it's impossible to single out one particular celebrity death as the most "effective" piece of fakery. Thanks to Twitter, one of these breaks out at least once a week, if not once a day. Latest example: DJ Tiesto. Didn't know who he was before his faux demise? Well, you do now.

Mr. Rogers: sniper

Fred Rogers was, depending on which version of the e-mail you received, a Navy SEAL or a Marine sniper with nearly 25 kills to his name. That delicious and totally false nugget about the children's show host was born into urban-legend lore sometime in the early '90s and picked up more traction online following Rogers's death in 2003. (Somehow, Bob Keeshan, aka Capt. Kangaroo, also got roped into the rumor.) But it's not true. Henrietta Pussycat, on the other hand? That puppet is totally deadly.

The "Lady Gaga is a man, baby" rumor

Thanks to the blogosphere and seemingly incriminating photos/YouTube videos, the rumor that Lady Gaga has a penis remains persistent online, even though the singer has denied it and the whole thing sounds completely idiotic. Not sure why anyone needs to generate ridiculous falsehoods about Gaga when she provides plenty of ridiculousness fodder all by herself.

"The Blair Witch Project" is real

For me, this remains the King of Pop Culture Internet Hoaxes. It may be hard for today's savvier online users to understand, but back in 1999 -- a simpler, more innocent time on the Web ... you know, except for the porn -- some people actually believed, thanks to the movie's very clever Web site, that Heather, Mike and Josh actually went missing in the Burkittsville, Md., woods. In a recent New York Times column, critic John Anderson remembered an overheard subway conversation between people duped by this well-executed faux documentary. (Side note: I also remember working as a reporter at a Montgomery County, Md., newspaper and hearing a colleague insist that we had to investigate the truth about these Montgomery College students who disappeared and became the basis for a new "documentary.")

"The Blair Witch Project" may not be as attention-getting as rumors about Lady Gaga or the latest alleged celebrity death of the moment. But it still stands as a ground-breaking example of how the Web can manipulate the truth, for purposes of cinematic fiction as well as just plain spreading dumb lies.

By Jen Chaney  | July 7, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Movies, Pop Culture  
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Get a life, Public!

Scoffingly yours,


Posted by: bmschumacher | July 7, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

And to think, Jen, the whole Blair Witch hoax was pulled by folks down the street in Seneca Creek State Park and my friends working at the Borders in Gaithersburg. So much for the Gazette's undercover reporters.

Posted by: jaygatsby27 | July 7, 2010 11:59 AM | Report abuse

Heh. I remember the first time I heard about "Blair Witch". I dutifully went to the web site and laughed. Because in my travels as a Geology student, I'd been around that area. I couldn't figure out how anyone could get lost in the woods around there - it's just not that densely wooded an area, mystic influences be damned.

I also remember seeing it with friends. We were all trying to figure out what was so scary, and ended up making our own "documentary" as a joke afterwards. Turns out I have a good scream-queen scream, which scared the bejeezus out of some neighbors ;)

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | July 7, 2010 12:08 PM | Report abuse

When I first heard the Blair Witch thing, I believed kids went missing until I saw the details. Ummm, Black Hills Park is located in Germantown/Boyds, not Burkittsville. (And, of course filmed in neither of those). It's also a park, not a forest, and I agree with Chas that you'd be hard pressed to get truly lost in there. Turned around a bit, sure, but it's just not that big a walk to civilization. They could have used Burkittsville for a neat little Appalachian Trail story though. Maybe even featured people hanging from the War Correspondent's memorial. There's a nice little old cemetery right there.

Posted by: DCCubefarm | July 7, 2010 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Oh the public is so gullible. I heard a rumor that a judge in LA actually sentenced Lindsey Lohan to 90 days in jail. That must be a lie because celebs serve time, they just buy their way out of trouble.

Posted by: epjd | July 7, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Captain Kangaroo and Hugh "Lumpy" Brannum (Mr. Green Jeans) were lovers. Mr Moose and BUnny Rabbit got all the laughs with Cosmo Allegretti's up their rear ends.

Posted by: swatkins1 | July 7, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Oh, epjd kind of beat me to the punch. What I want to see is 5 hoaxs that we WISH were true.

1. Pauly Shore is punched along with and by Kanye West.

2. Mel Gibson, Wee Tom Cruise, the Hasslehoff and Joe Biden start a charm school. (no cursing, cussing, couches or hamburgers allowed.)

3. The Twilight Saga fades into the, uh, twilight.

4. Paris H., the Kardasians (sp) and that woman from Baywatch find out that they really have no talent and start a nunnery.

5. "Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill" is finally awarded an Oscar, a Tony, a Golden Globe and a Raseberry for the most stunning achievement of 1965. The catagory still to be determined.

Posted by: elias_howe | July 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Michael Jackson isn't really dead. He's hiding out somewhere under an assumed name. With all the money his estate got in the last year, he'll never have to work again. Trust me on this one.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | July 7, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

What I want to know is, how did Paul Is Dead work? I mean, not only did that predate the internet, it even predated DARPANET. In other words, there was no possible way for a lie to be spread!

Eppe si muove.

Posted by: byoolin1 | July 7, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I hear tell that Elvis isn't dead either.

Posted by: Nosy_Parker | July 7, 2010 7:33 PM | Report abuse

The Mr. Rogers-was-a-sniper/Green Beret rumor predates the Internet by...well, a long shot.

Posted by: RiverOtis | July 8, 2010 9:32 AM | Report abuse

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