Fact or Fiction?

A look at conspiracy theories, “official truths”, political spin, propaganda, tall tales, urban legends, magic, and illusion, all as they relate to the Art of the Prank. When truth intersects with a personal agenda, established facts are challenged, or human gullibility is preyed upon for ulterior motives, we hope that skepticism, logic, reason, and facts have a balancing effect.

Blog Posts

The NYT Interviews Russian Pranksters Who Aren’t President of Anything

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

The New York Times did a phoner with two dudes posing as embattled Ukrainian President Poroshenko and indirectly give us the delightful new term “pranker.”


“Two Russian men pranked the The New York Times by giving a US journalist an interview posing as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko”
by Staff
Sputnik News
April 13, 2016

1027247581Russian prankers [sic] Vladimir Kuznetsov and Alexei Stolyarov, more commonly known as Vovan and Lexus, spoke with The New York Times journalist Carol Giacomo pretending to be Petro Poroshenko.

The prankers spoke with the journalist about the president’s business and his involvement in the recent Panama Papers leak. They assured The New York Times that Poroshenko is a law-abiding citizen who always pays all of his taxes and cares for his country.

Kuznetsov and Stolyarov went even further when after the interview they called The New York Times back and said the interview, in fact, wasn’t done with Poroshenko, but with a phony who wanted to discredit the newspaper for its recent article which called Ukraine a “corrupt swamp.”

In other words, the prankers fooled The New York Times again, this time simultaneously discrediting Poroshenko’s administration. Read more.

We’re Gonna Need More Enthusiasm

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Pranksters

Davy Rothbard of Found fame profiles a company that hires out fake crowds. H/t Dave Pell.


“Crowd Source: Inside the company that provides fake paparazzi, pretend campaign supporters, and counterfeit protesters”
by Davy Rothbard
The California Sunday Magazine
March 31, 2016

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When he can, Adam trains his hired crowds himself, but more often he relies on local coordinators who manage the events. In Los Angeles, Del Brown — the woman I met at the Marriott — is Adam’s point person. Del moved to California in 2012 to pursue an acting career and soon landed a Doritos commercial, but after that, she mostly found work as an extra in student films and small indie projects. She worked a gig with Crowds on Demand, and Adam was so impressed he immediately put her on staff. Del has established a wide network she can reach out to when she needs, say, 60 crowd-fillers for a party on the roof deck of the W Los Angeles hotel or a 6-foot-6-inch man in a leather kilt to act as a fan at the launch of a book about S&M culture. Many of Del’s recurring crowd members are background actors she’s met on film sets, yet she is continually trawling for fresh faces.

At the Marriott, I’d met Jackie Greig, who typifies the crowd members Del and Adam often hire. Jackie is 50 years old, a film student at Los Angeles City College. A teacher had shared a posting about what she thought was an upcoming film shoot that was looking for paid help. Jackie showed up at the Marriott only to discover that this was not a film shoot. Yes, she was being asked to aim her camera at the life coaches, but whether she hit record was immaterial. On one hand, Jackie was frustrated. She’d skipped class and driven more than an hour to be there. On the other hand, after a couple of hours, she’d made $37.50 and could now afford a Foo Fighters concert for her daughter. “I just wish they’d been more transparent about what the gig really was,” Jackie tells me.

If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know.

The tricky thing, Adam says, is how many of his clients insist on secrecy. If you’re hiring a crowd to fill a campaign event or a film premiere, the last thing you want to do is let anyone know. Adam must balance his goal of spreading awareness of his company, so he can attract more clients, with the benefits of keeping the public in the dark. If people start to doubt the veracity of crowds, his business might suffer. “Right now, we’re still kind of this secret weapon,” Adam says. “We have the element of surprise. Yeah, you might’ve heard about political candidates paying to bring some extra bodies into their campaign events, but it’s beyond the realm of most people’s imagination that crowds are being deployed in other ways. Nobody is skeptical of crowds. Of course, in five years that could change.”

Adam says he gives Del wide latitude to recruit crowd members. Most often, she presents the gigs as background acting work. This is only slightly misleading: Crowd members won’t bulk up their IMDB profile, but being part of a fake crowd is a kind of acting. In a world where everybody is constantly playing a part, staging moments to be broadcast later on social media, the line between counterfeit and authentic has become blurred. Is curating a version of yourself on Facebook any less fake than pretending to be a superfan of a life coach? Read more.


RT News Report: What If We Make a Video and Show ‘Em How Everything Really Works Around Here?

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Filed under: Political Pranks, Prank News, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire, Spin

The highly controversial Russian news network RT (f/k/a and a/k/a Russia Today) pokes a little fun on its own ruble. Clever, but all propaganda none-the-less… as always.

RT exposed in leaked video:
Watch how evil ‘Kremlin propaganda bullhorn’ REALLY works

Let’s Bomb Agrabah!

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Creative Activism, Media Literacy, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

A significant portion of the American voting public, particularly from the Republican ranks and particularly among Donald Trump fans, are at least somewhat in favor of bombing Agrabah.


“People Want to Bomb the Fictional Kingdom in Aladdin, But Don’t Panic Yet”
By Ariel Edwards-Levy and Natasha Jackson
Huffington Post
December 18, 2015

jafarvsaladdin“Americans are deeply divided over whether to bomb the kingdom of Agrabah, according to a new poll, with Republicans more likely to be in favor and Democrats tending to be opposed.

But here’s the problem: “Agrabah” happens to be the fictional home of Aladdin.

Public Policy Polling, a prominent Democratic-leaning polling firm, included the question in its most recent national poll. (Let’s not forget that this is the same firm that listed “Deez Nuts” as a candidate on a North Carolina poll.)

Over half of Democrats and 43 percent of Republicans answered the Agrabah question. Thirty percent of Republican primary voters were in favor of bombing the fictional location, while 13 percent were opposed. Among Democrats, 19 percent were in favor and 36 percent were opposed. (more…)

The Big Lie Continues…

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

It’s clear that if you say anything loud enough and often enough, people who want to believe you will believe you… whether or not it’s true. The Big Lie propaganda technique is a tried and true tactic. Planned Parenthood is only one of its recent victims. As the election season heats up, finding any truth anywhere will be almost impossible.


Republicans Are Legislating Based On Fake Videos. Should Someone Tell Them?
by Laura Bassett
Huffington Post
September 18, 2015

The House passed a pair of bills related to Planned Parenthood funding and “abortion survivors” on Friday.

woman in supermarketWASHINGTON — In the second GOP presidential debate Wednesday night, candidate Carly Fiorina passionately described a graphic scene from an undercover video of Planned Parenthood in which a fetus that survived an abortion waits, its “heart beating” and “legs kicking,” for a technician to harvest its brain. On Friday, House Republicans passed a pair of bills inspired by the same videos: One measure would defund Planned Parenthood and another would protect “abortion survivors.”

The problem is, the videos are so heavily edited that they bear little resemblance to reality, and the scene Fiorina described doesn’t exist.

She was most likely referring to the video in which Holly O’Donnell, a former procurement technician for a biomedical company, talks about having seen a fully formed aborted fetus, with its heart still beating, in a pathology lab. The video doesn’t show any footage from the scene, but instead shows a graphic image of someone holding a small fetus in their hands. That image is not an aborted fetus, as the video suggests. Rather, it was taken from the blog of a woman named Alexis Fretz, who miscarried at 19 weeks and posted images of her still-born baby online. (more…)

Bible Studies for Kim Davis

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Filed under: Creative Activism, The Big One

Planting Peace Sends a Message to Kim Davis, September 11, 2015

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Following the June 26th Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality, Rowan County clerk Kim Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses in her home state, citing that doing so compromised her religious beliefs. That day, she became the poster child for the anti-gay movement.

As has been painstakingly observed time and time again, the anti-LGBTQ movement is comprised of a substantial number of zealots who unfailingly refer to their rigid interpretation of religious text to narrowly define “traditional” institutions and values. They pick and choose what they wish to convey as immoral and unacceptable, while seemingly sweeping lines of scripture just a few letters away completely under the rug.

In response, Planting Peace has constructed a message for Kim Davis and the anti-LGBTQ movement. The intent of the billboard is to expose this narrow interpretation by Davis and others that they use to defend their discrimination against the LGBTQ community. It is important and relevant to call this out, because these messages and actions are not simply about a political or religious debate. There are LGBTQ youth across the world who are taking their lives at an alarming rate because of these messages from society that make them feel broken or less than. We have to meet hate with love…intolerance with compassion.

Our message to our LGBTQ youth is simple:
You are loved, valued, supported, and beautiful.
There is nothing wrong with you, and we will stand by you.
You are not alone.

Planting Peace

photo: Huffington Post


Morally Outraged Hackers Publish Ashley Madison Secrets

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Spin

Red Woman's LipsThe hackers responsible for stealing supposedly secure data from Ashley Madison, the website for married people looking for extramarital trysts, appear to have a conscience. They’re moralists. But not about their actions.

Kim Zetter of Wired reports, “The hackers deflected responsibility for any damages or repercussions that victims of the breach and data dump may suffer.”

AshleyMadison-Data-Dump

Read Kim’s whole Wired article here


Mike Huckabee Won’t Give You a Choice

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Satire, The Big One

From Erin:


Mike Huckabee guitar lessons

STEM, Social Engineering and Stealing

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues

The Kernel delves into the hidden subculture of liars, thieves, and hackers who expose and exploit gaping loopholes in e-commerce via Jonah (not his real name), someone who’s been there and back.


“Confessions of a social engineer”
by Dell Cameron
The Kernel
August 9, 2015

serialcodegenerator…Part theater and part science, social engineering is the method by which hackers, for lack of a better term, exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology; for Jonah, it was a key to getting anything he wanted, from televisions and laptops to smartphones and expensive wines. One of his largest takes netted him around $60,000 worth of product, he says. He showed me a Rolex Daytona watch—part of a gallery of stolen goods he’d photographed in his bedroom—which retails on Amazon for around $26,000.

Whether through face-to-face interaction, by phone, or by email, the human gatekeepers of any network can be exploited—if you know how to play the game. They’re the weakest link in any company’s security.

Almost every major electronics company is vulnerable in nearly the same way: They all have warranty-based replacement systems that can be exploited. Most companies, for instance, don’t require a defective item to be returned before mailing out its replacement. It’s likewise difficult to prove that an in-warranty item has been lost or stolen.

Through repeated phone calls, social engineers develop strategies for navigating a company’s customer help line. They get a feel for which sob stories and which “yes” or “no” responses will work best toward achieving their objective. Intelligence, temperament, and even humor all come into play. The questions and responses are then mapped out, as if composing a flowchart, with the goal of expediting the con. Read the whole article.


When Life Imitates Satire: Israeli Newspaper Spooked by The Onion’s Prescient Report

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Filed under: Satire, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

‘Netanyahu cheered up by US missile offer’: how the Onion scooped Haaretz
by Jessica Elgot
The Guardian
July 21, 2015

Satirical site’s joke about the US offering missiles to the Israeli prime minister to appease him over the Iran nuclear deal turned out to be uncannily accurate

Binyamin Netanyahu‘US Soothes Upset Netanyahu With Shipment of Ballistic Missiles’ sounds like a headline from the Onion. And it is – except that this time it’s true. International media organisations have regularly been caught out by the satirical news site, fooled into thinking that Kim Jong-un really was voted the world’s sexiest man, or that Americans would prefer a beer with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than Barack Obama.

But this time editors of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz were spooked by a story in the Onion from the previous day that matched what they had heard as fact.

Last week, the paper reported a senior US official as saying that Obama had spoken to the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, offering to “begin immediate talks about upgrading the Israel Defence Forces’ offensive and defensive capabilities” after US negotiators reached a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, which was condemned by Israel. But the day before, the Onion had published a tongue-in-cheek piece announcing that the Israeli government would receive “a nice, big shipment of ballistic missiles” to help them come to terms with the Iran deal.

The piece included jokey quotes from a “State Department spokesperson”, which said: “Bibi always gets a little cranky when he sees us talking to Iran, but a few dozen short-range surface-to-surface missiles usually cheer him right up … At least we’ll have a couple months of peace and quiet around here.”

Life does not entirely imitate satire: Haaretz reported that the Israeli leader has said he would not accept the offer, because to do so would imply that the Iran deal had been tacitly accepted, though Israeli army radio on Monday quoted unnamed defence ministry officials as saying they would discuss compensation from the US.

Read the rest of this article here.


Non-profit that entrapped Planned Parenthood in supposed “fetus selling” scandal is not what it purports to be

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Filed under: Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

Update, August 1, 2015: A Los Angeles judge has placed a temporary injunction on the Center for Medical Progress, stopping them from issuing any further anti-Planned Parenthood videos they may have illegally obtained using fake IDs.


CMP logoHuffington Post states that the Center for Medical Progress, the anti-abortion group behind the sting that has discredited Planned Parenthood by publishing a video about the organization selling fetal parts, is a sham non-profit. The Center, in turn, created a “shell” group called Biomax, calling it a “fetal tissue procurement company,” to entrap a Planned Parenthood executive into speaking casually over a meal with wine about procedures for shipping fetuses to laboratories for research.

The final video was edited to make it appear that Planned Parenthood sells fetuses from abortions, when in actuality, at the request of some women, they donate the fetuses for research. Reimbursements are to cover the cost of transportation. None of this is illegal. According to Slate.com, there appears to be a link between the head of the group David Daleiden and James O’Keefe, known for creating similar dishonest and inflamatory videos in support of hot right wing political issues.

Here’s the video in question. Watch carefully. Look for the numerous camera angles, as there are at least 2 if not 3 concealed cameras. And listen to the dialog to see how easy it is to take what someone says out of context, turning it into a story about something totally different.

Read more about this here:

  • Slate.com: What Is the Center for Medical Progress, the Group Behind the Latest Viral Abortion Video?
  • Huffington Post: Group Behind Planned Parenthood Sting Video May Have Tricked IRS, Donors

  • Ricky & Doris: An Unconventional Friendship in New York City. With Puppets!

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    Filed under: Urban Legends

    My long-time friend and former neighbor, activist Doris Diether, is featured in this short film by photographer and filmmaker David Friedman. He made this wonderful homage to the friendship between Doris and artist RicKy Syers for AARP.


    Doris Diether with her RicKy Syers puppet, photo by Victor Shoup
    Pulling her own strings, 2013, Victor Shoup

    Ricky Syers is an off-beat 50 year old street performer who found his calling as a puppeteer after a lifetime of manual labor. While performing in New York City’s Washington Square Park, he met Doris Diether, an 86 year old community activist. They became friends and he made a marionette that looks just like her. Now she’s joined his act and the two of them can often be seen performing together.

    via Colossal


    Loverly Delusion

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    Filed under: Fraud and Deception

    This Is What It’s Like To Fall In Love With A Woman Who Doesn’t Exist
    by Patrick Smith
    BuzzFeed
    May 24, 2015

    Leah Palmer was a high-flying fashionista with a jet-setting lifestyle and a host of admirers on social media. But her entire existence was a fraud – a multiyear hoax that depended on stealing someone else’s life. BuzzFeed News tells the extraordinary story.

    longform-32066-1432312839-3

    Images from Leah Palmer’s Instagram account, @LeahPalmerFashion. Instagram

    Leah Palmer was a hard girl to pin down. She worked in fashion and had a jet-setting lifestyle that took her around the world. She would often enthusiastically arrange to meet her friends and male admirers, only to pull out at the last minute. She’d get ill at the worst moments, or have family crises.

    “Whenever we had arranged to meet, there was always an excuse,” says Justin, a semiprofessional athlete who developed a friendship – and then a relationship – with Leah. (Justin is not his real name; he spoke to BuzzFeed News under condition of anonymity.)

    Images from Leah Palmer’s Instagram account, @LeahPalmerFashion. Instagram
    “Given her apparent career in fashion, she was supposedly away a lot with work,” he says. “She pulled at the heartstrings a little, claiming the death of her brother, and various other family tragedies, throughout the time we were in contact. So I often gave her the benefit of the doubt when it came to meeting up.”
    The pair started flirting in July 2012 and tweeted each other several times a day. They spoke regularly on the phone and would use Skype – but never via a video call, because Leah’s camera was invariably broken. Leah would occasionally put her mother Scarlett on the phone to speak to Justin.

    He knew, he tells BuzzFeed News, that something didn’t add up. “She always seemed to have answers and was able to cover her tracks rather well – speaking to friends, having an international dial tone when away, being very knowledgeable about her industry, posting things on social media. But obviously the fact that you could never tie her down to a time and place to meet would sound alarm bells.”

    Read the whole story here.

    The Credibility Crisis: Who do you believe? Me or your lying eyes?

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    Filed under: Propaganda and Disinformation

    A must-read recommendation from Joey Skaggs: Don’t miss Adrian Chen’s article, The Agency, in The New York Times, June 2, 2015


    Wag the Dog, online and updated
    David Strom’s Web Informant
    June 3, 2015

    In one of my favorite movies, Wag the Dog, we declare a fictional war on Albania in an attempt to manipulate a presidential election. While the movie (which was made 18 years ago) posits a ridiculous scenario, it is coming of age in today’s era of ubiquitous Internet and inexpensive video editing and social media aggregation tools.

    MV5BMjA4OTQzODE1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDIyMjY0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_-300x201According to Adrian Chen’s article in the New York Times, a secretive Russian agency has been fabricating various events for both American and Russian audiences using very similar “Wag the Dog” scenarios. Chen finds You Tube videos, fake Twitter accounts by the truckload, and phony websites and other postings that seem to all come from this agency. The effort is so realistic that many people are fooled into thinking its fabricated disasters, conflicts, and other newsworthy events are real, rather than the work of some clever and dedicated troll army. (more…)

    The Amazing Story of Mingering Mike

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    Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Urban Legends

    The mystery of Mingering Mike: the soul legend who never existed
    by Jon Ronson
    The Guardian
    11 February 2015

    When a ‘crate-digger’ found a massive vinyl collection at a flea market, he couldn’t understand how a soul star who’d released over 100 records could just disappear. But the truth turned out to be even stranger. Jon Ronson goes in search of Mingering Mike

    Intensely shy ... Mingering Mike at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photograph: Jocelyn Augustino for the Guardian

    Intensely shy … Mingering Mike at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Photograph: Jocelyn Augustino for the Guardian


    This story begins with a record collector unearthing something extraordinary at a flea market one dawn in 2003. His name is Dori Hadar. He worked as a criminal investigator for a law firm in Washington DC and he’d been up all night with a client at the jail next door.

    “It’s a miserable place to be, the DC jail,” Hadar tells me. “It’s stuffy and muggy and everything’s old and decaying.”

    “Do you remember what your client had been accused of?” I ask.

    Hadar shakes his head. “It’s basically drugs, guns and murders. Mainly.”

    Hadar finally left the jail at 5am, just as a nearby flea market was setting up. He was a regular there – a “crate-digger” – for ever rifling through boxes of secondhand soul and funk albums, hunting for rarities. “It’s very competitive, the crate-digger world,” Hadar says. “People guard their boxes, they don’t want you to see, they pull the records out really fast.”

    But Hadar had never been at the flea market at 5am before, and was thrilled to find no other crate-digger in sight. “And suddenly this enormous collection turned up. There must have been 15 boxes of albums.”

    “As a crate-digger, that must be …”

    “It’s the dream.”

    All artworks courtesy the artist/Smithsonian American Art Museum

    All artworks courtesy the artist/Smithsonian American Art Museum


    Hadar was a true soul aficionado, with an encyclopaedic knowledge and 10,000 records at home. Which is why he was so amazed to discover 38 albums by a soul singer he had never heard of. His name was Mingering Mike. Hadar stared at the record covers. He read the liner notes. There was Mingering Mike’s 1968’s debut, Sit’tin by the Window. The cover art was a painting of a young man in a green T-shirt, good-looking, serious. The comedian Jack Benny had written the liner notes, calling him “a bright and intelligent young man with a great, exciting future awaiting him”.

    So it transpired. There were greatest hits collections and a Bruce Lee concept album and movie soundtracks – including one for an action film called Stake Out. And there were live albums, like 1972’s Live from Paris, The Mingering Mike Review: ‘Their biggest show ever,’ read the liner notes. ‘What a night that was.’

    Most of the song titles were upbeat and optimistic, like There’s Nothing Wrong With You Baby and Play It Cool, Don’t Be No Fool, Get Your Thing Together and Go Back to School. But other records had darker themes, like The Drug Store and Mama Takes Dope. Some were still wrapped in their original cellophane, price tags intact.

    Hadar pulled out a few discs to see what condition they were in. Which was when he discovered to his enormous surprise that they weren’t vinyl. They were black-painted cardboard, with fake labels and hand-drawn grooves.

    What had begun to dawn on Hadar was now totally apparent: Mingering Mike did not exist. He was somebody’s hugely detailed fantasy.

    Read the whole story here.


    Mingering Mike’s prodigious album collection is on exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2nd floor South, 8th and F Streets, N.W., February 27, 2015 – August 2, 2015