Literary Hoaxes

Blog Posts

Did Fake News Skew the Presidential Election?

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters

Among the myriad of influences on the presidential election results, a prominent and pervasive force has been fake news, propagated by unscrupulous merchants seeking traffic via social media. Here’s a quasi-confession of one such voice.

Here also, from NYMag.com is “An Extremely Helpful List of Fake and Misleading News Sites to Watch Out For“.


Facebook fake-news writer: ‘I think Donald Trump is in the White House because of me’
by Caitlin Dewey
Washington Post
November 17, 2016

imrs-sm

What do the Amish lobby, gay wedding vans and the ban of the national anthem have in common? For starters, they’re all make-believe — and invented by the same man.

Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of a Facebook fake-news empire, has made his living off viral news hoaxes for several years. He has twice convinced the Internet that he’s British graffiti artist Banksy; he also published the very viral, very fake news of a Yelp vs. “South Park” lawsuit last year.

But in recent months, Horner has found the fake-news ecosystem growing more crowded, more political and vastly more influential: In March, Donald Trump’s son Eric and his then-campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, even tweeted links to one of Horner’s faux-articles. His stories have also appeared as news on Google.

In light of concerns that stories like Horner’s may have affected the presidential election, and in the wake of announcements that both Google and Facebook would take action against deceptive outlets, Intersect called Horner to discuss his perspective on fake news. This transcript has been edited for clarity, length and — ahem — bad language. ” target=”_blank”>Read more

The Great Modernist Poetry Prank

by
Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Literary Hoaxes, Parody, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Satire, The History of Pranks

The Futility Closet podcast investigates two Australian army officers whose antipathy for the arts establishment inspired them to create a fake writer and receive embarrassing critical acclaim. Take some time to pore over the copious background materials and keep in mind that this predates the Sokal Hoax by almost five decades.


“The Great Australian Poetry Hoax”
by Greg Ross
Futility Closet
October 17, 2016

2016-10-17-podcast-episode-126-ern-malleyIn 1943, fed up with modernist poetry, two Australian servicemen invented a fake poet and submitted a collection of deliberately senseless verses to a Melbourne arts magazine. To their delight, they were accepted and their author hailed as “one of the most remarkable and important poetic figures of this country.” In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Ern Malley hoax, its perpetrators, and its surprising legacy in Australian literature.

We’ll also hear a mechanized Radiohead and puzzle over a railroad standstill. Read more.

An Internet Writer Breaks Up With Her Boyfriend Over Trump… You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

by
Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation

The ferocious and funny Anna Merlan takes an impressively deep dive into the made-up career of Rachel Brewson, the JT LeRoy of womens-interest clickbait.


“The Team of Men Behind Rachel Brewston, the Fake Woman Whose Trump-Fueled Breakup Went Viral”
by Anna Merlan
Jezebel
October 4, 2016

aotp_brewsonIn December 2015, readers at women’s site xoJane were enthralled and filled with all-caps rage by Rachel Brewson, a self-described “giant liberal” who boldly declared her love for a Republican named Todd. She described, in rapturous terms, how the couple’s political disagreements fueled an ecstatic third-date bipartisan fuck-fest that soon flowered into a real relationship.

Mid-date, they got into a “heated debate” about politics, Brewson wrote. They fought from wherever the date took place (she didn’t say), into the street, and into a cab. The discussion ended when Todd—who, as it turned out, was a gun-loving, Iraq-war-supporting libertarian—manfully invited himself up to her apartment.

“What followed was the best sex of my life up to that point,” Brewson wrote, whose author bio said she was a “dating editor” at a site called Review Weekly. “Somehow the political tension between us had transformed into sexual tension. I was hooked.”

The post was a modest success—it was shared just under 3,000 times on social media, and racked up 1,000 comments on xoJane itself (whose editor-in-chief is Jane Pratt of Sassy fame. The site was purchased by Time. Inc last fall). Many of those comments complained about Rachel’s privileged white-woman version of liberalism, which allowed her to ignore “petty differences”—her term—between her and Todd on issues like immigration.

“He flashed some money your way and you’re ready to label things like rape culture and systematic racism as ‘petty differences,’” one commenter fumed. “You aren’t as liberal as you want to believe you are.”

Three months later, the fairytale was over. (more…)

Inside the Amazon Million Dollar e-Book Scam

by
Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Literary Hoaxes

In a complex whirlwind of a story, ZDNet digs into a bizarre tech scam involving bots, bad e-books, Amazon Kindle, Tor, and one unscrupulous engineer.


“Revealed: How one Amazon Kindle scam made millions of dollars”
by Zach Whittaker
ZDNet
September 27, 2016

Emma Moore could have been the health and weight loss guru you spent your life looking for.

aotp_kindlecatfishYou might be forgiven for not knowing her work — after all, she has a common name, one that she shares with other similarly successful authors on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of health, dieting, cooking, and weight loss ebooks to her name. She published over a dozen ebooks on Amazon this year — five ebooks alone this month. And Moore would even work with other authors — like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson — who have all published about a dozen ebooks each this year as well.

Here’s the snag: to our knowledge, Moore doesn’t exist. None of them do.

Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms employed in a sophisticated “catfishing” scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business hoodwinked Amazon customers into buying low-quality ebooks, which were boosted on the online marketplace by an unscrupulous system of bots, scripts, and virtual servers.

Catfishing isn’t new — it’s been well documented. Some scammers buy fake reviews, while others will try other ways to game the system.

Until now, nobody has been able to look inside at how one of these scams work — especially one that’s been so prolific, generating millions of dollars in royalties by cashing in on unwitting buyers who are tricked into thinking these ebooks have some substance.

Shershnyov was able to stay in Amazon’s shadows for two years by using his scam server conservatively so as to not raise any red flags.

What eventually gave him away weren’t customer complaints or even getting caught by the bookseller. It was good old-fashioned carelessness. He forgot to put a password on his server. Read more.

Uncle Sam’s Imaginary Pen Pal

by
Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, The History of Pranks

Gizmodo’s Paleofuture blog examines the canon of opinion writer Guy Sims Fitch, a prolific non-existent writer for the United States Information Agency.


“Meet Guy Sims Fitch, a Fake Writer Invented by the United States Government”
by Matt Novak
September 27, 2016
Paleofuture

aotp_guysimsfitchGuy Sims Fitch had a lot to say about the world economy in the 1950s and 60s. He wrote articles in newspapers around the globe as an authoritative voice on economic issues during the Cold War. Fitch was a big believer in private American investment and advocated for it as a liberating force internationally. But no matter what you thought of Guy Sims Fitch’s ideas, he had one big problem. He didn’t exist.

Guy Sims Fitch was created by the United States Information Agency (USIA), America’s official news distribution service for the rest of the world. Today, people find the term “propaganda” to be incredibly loaded and even negative. But employees of the USIA used the term freely and proudly in the 1950s and 60s, believing that they were fighting a noble and just cause against the Soviet Union and the spread of Communism. And Guy Sims Fitch was just one tool in the diverse toolbox of the USIA propaganda machine.

“I don’t mind being called a propagandist, so long as that propaganda is based on the truth,” said Edward R. Murrow in 1962. Murrow took a job as head of the USIA after a long and celebrated career as a journalist, and did quite a few things during his tenure that would make modern journalists who romanticize “the good old days” blush.

But even when USIA peddled its own version of the truth, the propaganda agency wasn’t always using the most, let’s say, truthful of methods. Their use of Guy Sims Fitch—a fake person whose opinions would be printed in countries like Brazil, Germany, and Australia, among others—served the cause of America’s version of the truth against Communism during the Cold War, even if Fitch’s very existence was a lie.

Read more.

The Strange Case of JT LeRoy

by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Hype, Literary Hoaxes, Prank News, Publicity Stunts

JT LeRoy was widely presumed to be a gay prostitute from West Virginia who became the toast of NYC art-hipsterdom on the strength of his autobiographical books. The problem was that he didn’t exist at all – he was a character invented by a frustrated failed writer named Laura Albert and played by a friend of Albert’s in a blonde wig. Frauds and fabulists ran amok in the Bush years, and LeRoy’s unmasking didn’t garner the same attention and schadenfreude as the downfalls of rouge reporter Jayson Blair or manly-man poseur James Frey. But as a new documentary explores, his story was a hell of a lot weirder.


“JT LeRoy doc explores absorbing literary scandal”
by Lindsey Bahr
AP
September 7, 2016

downloadTo the general public, the name JT LeRoy probably rings only the vaguest of bells, if any at all. It didn’t for this particular critic. But that innocent ignorance is all the more reason to seek out the documentary “Author: The JT LeRoy Story ,” a fascinating peek into one of the wildest literary scandals in recent years and the bizarre nature of celebrity relationships. Director Jeff Feuerzeig’s film, while undeniably one-sided, will have your mind spinning with questions about authorship, authenticity, art and fame.

Read more.


To Goose a Rival, Audubon Made Up Dozens of Creatures

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Pranks, The History of Pranks

Birdwatchers have vicious office politics.


“Audubon Made Up At Least 28 Fake Species To Prank A Rival”
by Sarah Laskow
Atlas Obscura
April 22, 2016

brindledsamiterPranks are meant to be discovered—what’s the point in fooling someone if they never notice they’ve been fooled? But one 19th century prank, sprung by John James Audubon on another naturalist, was so extensive and so well executed that its full scope is only now coming to light.

The prank began when the French naturalist Constantine Rafinesque sought on Audubon on a journey down the Ohio River in 1818. Audubon was years away from publishing Birds in America, but even then he was known among colleagues for his ornithological drawings. Rafinesque was on the hunt for new species—plants in particular—and he imagined that Audubon might have unwittingly included some unnamed specimens in his sketches.

Rafinesque was an extremely enthusiastic namer of species: during his career as a naturalist, he named 2,700 plant genera and 6,700 species, approximately. He was self-taught, and the letter of introduction he handed to Audubon described him as “an odd fish.” When they met, Audubon noted, Rafinesque was wearing a “long loose coat…stained all over with the juice of plants,” a waistcoat “with enormous pockets” and a very long beard. Rafinesque was not known for his social graces; as John Jeremiah Sullivan writes, Audubon is the “only person on record” as actually liking him.

auduonold-(1)During their visit, though, Audubon fed Rafinesque descriptions of American creatures, including 11 species of fish that never really existed. Rafinesque duly jotted them down in his notebook and later proffered those descriptions as evidence of new species. For 50 or so years, those 11 fish remained in the scientific record as real species, despite their very unusual features, including bulletproof (!) scales.

By the 1870s, the truth about the fish had been discovered. But the fish were only part of Audubon’s prank. In a new paper in the Archives of Natural History, Neal Woodman, a curator at Smithsonian’s natural history museum, details its fuller extent: Audubon also fabricated at least two birds, a “trivalved” brachiopod, three snails, two plants, and nine wild rats, all of which Rafinesque accepted as real. Read more.

Why Hollywood Culture’s Outspoken (Fake) Mystery Critics Threw in the Towel Remains a Mystery

posted by
Filed under: Creative Activism, Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters

Twitter’s ‘Mystery Hollywood’ implodes: @MysteryExec was a fake
by Josh Dickey
Mashable
August 20, 2015

@MysteryExec, @MysteryVP Thumbnails

@MysteryExec, @MysteryVP thumbnails

The Twitter handle @MysteryExec, the most prominent voice in a small and tight-knit community of showbiz types who for years have tweeted anonymously, candidly and often about their batshit crazy profession, deleted his account sometime late Tuesday night. So did his sidekick, the tart-tongued @MysteryVP.

The reason: Mystery Executive is not an executive at all. Mystery VP is vice president of nothing.

They were catfish. And that’s too bad.

Multiple sources close to the people behind the accounts tell Mashable that @MysteryExec and @MysteryVP were a young male/female writing duo just trying to make it in Hollywood whose prank turned into a mini-phenomenon. What started as an outlet for their frustration turned into a movement that thousands of people, including this writer and dozens of prominent players in Hollywood, readily bought into.

And in recent months, as the ruse began to unravel, the entire Mystery showbiz-on-Twitter community began to crumble, too.

Read the whole story here.


Truman Capote’s Last Write: A Fake Non-Fiction Masterpiece

posted by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

Reprinted from 1992 by Longform.org, here’s the fascinating unraveling of Truman Capote’s mysterious and clearly fake “non-fiction account of an American crime”.


Hoax: Secrets That Truman Capote Took to the Grave
by Peter and Leni Gillman
Sunday Times Magazine
June, 1992

Uncovering the real story behind a supposedly true account.

Truman Capote

Joe Fox was astounded. On his desk, this late autumn day in 1979, was a manuscript bearing the name of Truman Capote. Two months before, Capote had promised Fox a “surprise,” but Fox had been unimpressed: as Capote’s long-suffering editor at the New York publishing company, Random House, he had grown weary of his endless promises. Now Capote had delivered a manuscript to rank with his masterpiece, In Cold Blood.

Published 13 years before, Capote’s true-life account of the murder of a ranching family in Kansas had brought him literary acclaim, with status and royalties to march. Yet Capote had written nothing to match it since. He had supposedly been working on a novel, Answered Prayers, but for more than a decade Fox had watched deadlines come and go with nothing from Capote but a series of excuses.

The gossip-mongers of the literary world were proclaiming that Capote was burnt out, his sources of inspiration dissipated by alcohol and cocaine. Now Capote had confounded them all by delivering a sequel to In Cold Blood. He called it Hand-Carved Coffins, adding the potent subtitle: “A non-fiction account of an American crime.”

Read the whole story here.


Can You Spot the Fake Self-Help Books?

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Pranksters, Satire

“I went to a bookstore and asked the saleswoman, ‘Where’s the self-help section?’ She said if she told me, it would defeat the purpose.”
– George Carlin

centaurWriting shallow self-help volumes is the last refuge of the soi-disant expert who hasn’t managed to crank out a livelihood doing anything more useful.

The genre rose with the Human Potential Movement and is still around to give us an endless litany of reasons to be miserable. If you want to improve your circumstances and adjust to these times, try developing some skepticism.

Self-help has always been a fat target for pranksters and satirists. One wily redditor carries on the tradition by creating his own glaring fakes and sneaking them into bookstores alongside the “legitimate” titles. Have a look! Is there really much of a difference?

So far, the top comment reads, “Joke’s on you. You have people interested in these books that want to buy them.”


Fakes, Lies, and Forgeries Exhibition

posted by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

From Marty Elvin:

The Milton S. Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University presents:


Fakes, Lies & Forgeries

Fakes, Lies & Forgeries
George Peabody Library Exhibition Hall
17 East Mount Vernon Place
Baltimore, Maryland
October 5, 2014–February 1, 2015

In 2011, Johns Hopkins University acquired the world’s most comprehensive collection of rare books and manuscripts on the history of forgery in the West, some 1,700 items in all spanning the ancient world to the 20th century. This exhibition of 70 treasures from the collection explores the phenomenon of forgery as a creative literary form, and addresses particular highlights of this extraordinary gathering of scholarly materials from classical antiquity to the early decades of the 20th century.

Bibliotheca Fictiva

Highlights will include: editions of Jesus’ posthumous “Letter from Heaven,” eyewitness accounts of the Fall of Troy, the only surviving autograph of the martyr Thomas Beckett, unpublished manuscript verses of Martin Luther expositing “The Lord’s Prayer, annotated books from Shakespeare’s personal library, (more…)

Catching Up With Serial Fabulist Stephen Glass

by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy

Hanna Rosin attempts to square up with her former bestie, one of American journalism’s most notorious bullshitters.

Bonus: Longform.org has a confounding collection of essays on frauds in journalism.


“Hello, My Name Is Stephen Glass, and I’m Sorry”
By Hanna Rosin
The New Republic
November 10, 2014

He nearly destroyed this magazine. Sixteen years later, his former best friend finally confronts him.

shattered-glass2

The last time I talked to Stephen Glass, he was pleading with me on the phone to protect him from Charles Lane. Chuck, as we called him, was the editor of The New Republic and Steve was my colleague and very good friend, maybe something like a little brother, though we are only two years apart in age. Steve had a way of inspiring loyalty, not jealousy, in his fellow young writers, which was remarkable given how spectacularly successful he’d been in such a short time. While the rest of us were still scratching our way out of the intern pit, he was becoming a franchise, turning out bizarre and amazing stories week after week for The New Republic, Harper’s, and Rolling Stone—each one a home run.

I didn’t know when he called me that he’d made up nearly all of the bizarre and amazing stories, that he was the perpetrator of probably the most elaborate fraud in journalistic history, that he would soon become famous on a whole new scale. I didn’t even know he had a dark side. It was the spring of 1998 and he was still just my hapless friend Steve, who padded into my office ten times a day in white socks and was more interested in alphabetizing beer than drinking it. When he called, I was in New York and I said I would come back to D.C. right away. I probably said something about Chuck like: “Fuck him. He can’t fire you. He can’t possibly think you would do that.”

I was wrong, and Chuck, ever-resistant to Steve’s charms, was as right as he’d been in his life. (more…)

World Class Literary Deception

posted by
Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes

Celebrity biography readers beware. David Cay Johnston catalogs how one best-selling author, C. David Heymann, who wrote books of historical significance about world leaders and A-class celebs, filled his pages with inaccuracies and downright scurrilous fabrications.


C. David Heymann’s Lies About JFK and Jackie, Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor
by David Cay Johnston
Newsweek
August 27, 2014

C. David Heymann’s Lies About JFK and Jackie  Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor-425

He had been dead for over two years, but he still had a magic touch with readers.

When best-selling author C. David Heymann’s latest (and last) book, Joe and Marilyn: Legends in Love, came out in July, it received the kind of reviews most authors would kill for. The Columbus Dispatch called it an “engrossing portrait.” The Christian Science Monitor and the New York Post raved. Kirkus Reviews said it was “a well-researched story” revealing the “profoundly unethical behavior of the medical and mental health professionals who dealt with [Monroe].” The popular Canadian magazine Maclean’s praised Heymann’s research, finding “his sources credible.”

The publisher, a subsidiary of media behemoth CBS, says Joe and Marilyn tells “the riveting true story” of the lusty, tempestuous and brief marriage between the Yankees slugger and the iconic actress. In this and his previous 10 books, Heymann served up intimate details no other celebrity biographer could match. It was often titillating and sometimes shocking stuff. In Joe and Marilyn, Heymann wrote that DiMaggio beat Monroe, wiretapped her home and stalked her by skulking around in disguises, wearing a fake beard and for hours holding up a copy of The New York Times so no one would notice him in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria hotel.

(more…)

Life Cycle of a Wikipedia Hoax

by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Practical Jokes and Mischief

Wikipedia is every undergrad’s best friend, and its community of editors works hard to make it informative and accurate. But it can still allow falsehoods to spread, as it did with a stoner prank… for years.

Amelia Bedelia Hoax

Had she not outed herself, EJ Dickson’s kiddie-lit misinfo may have spread even further. She puts a stop to it here, with “I Accidentally Started a Wikipedia Hoax” on The Daily Dot, adding some insights on Wikipedia’s many security holes.

As Wikipedia shenanigans go, Dickson’s is fairly innocent. A lot of Z-listers have obviously created entries for themselves by plugging in their PR boilerplate, and there’s some hardcore defamation out there as well. Rooting out falsehoods continues to be part of the heated discussion (one with the occasional hilarious digression) about Wikipedia’s future.


Museum of Words Sanctifies “You’re Fired”

posted by
Filed under: Literary Hoaxes

From Joe King: The founder of Museum of Words, which he founded as a joke, is sacked.


Australia: ‘Museum of Words’ sacks founder
…as found by BBC Monitoring
13 November 2013

The Museum of Words in Sydney has sacked its own founder after he described the project as a “scam”, it is reported.

charlesfrith

Charles Frith, an Australian comedian, said he wanted to “scam an arts grant”, and a museum of words seemed like the cheapest option, The Sydney Morning Herald reports. “The original idea was to spend 150 dollars on the museum and the rest on booze for the opening-night party,” Charles Frith said.

To his surprise, the city of Sydney granted the museum some 30,000 Australian dollars ($28,000; £17,500), and the museum opened on 9 November. Perhaps even more astonishingly, many celebrities responded to his request to “donate” words which they would not use while they are on loan at the museum. It now exhibits the printed word “consent” from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and “perseverance” from mining tycoon Gina Rinehart, among others.

However, the museum only received a polite apology from Buckingham Palace. “‘My wife said the Queen was the only person who picked it as a scam,” the Canberra Times quotes Firth as saying.

The founder’s remarks did not go down very well with other managers running the museum. They convened an urgent meeting, and it was not difficult to guess what was on the agenda. “Yep. They’ve sacked me,” tweeted Charles Frith. “Ironically, I’m at a loss for words.”