Media Pranks

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DHMO in the Water, Mischief in the Air

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Pranksters, The History of Pranks

Dan Lewis’s conversation-starting email newsletter “Now I Know” looks back on a morning radio hoax that kicked up a storm.


“The Dangerous-Sounding Threat of DHMO”
by Dan Lewis
Now I Know
September 14, 2016

aotp_dhmoSt. John and Fish were, at the time, morning hours radio hosts for a Florida radio station. On April 1st of that year — and yes, that date should have been a clue — the duo decided to issue a public service announcement, telling listeners that dihydrogen monoxide was coming out of water taps in the area.

The reaction from what would hope was a small, small minority the listeners was fierce and nearly immediate. Enough people were fooled by the PSA that the county water board began fielding calls, and at 8:30 AM that day — about three-and-a-half hours into what should have been a five-hour radio show — St. John and Fish were taken off the air. The county issued a statement telling residents that the water was entirely safe and that this was just a joke gone bad (although without explaining the science), and the radio station, per the Atlantic, spent the rest of the day informing listeners of the same.

But beyond that, no big deal, right? Wrong — at least, according to the state’s Department of Health. Its spokesperson told the press that calling in “a false water quality issue” could be considered a felony in the state. The station, perhaps fearing liability, suspended the pair of DJs indefinitely. And listeners seemed OK with the punishment: according to USA Today, a (hardly scientific, but why should we get science involved here?) poll on the radio station’s website had a large majority — 77% — hoping that the two would never be welcomed back on the air. Read more.


Tech-Savvy Satire for an Absurd Election Year

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Satire

As The Onion has evolved from a college-town in-joke into an American satirical institution, it has taken a more active role in critiquing US politics. In the run-up to this year’s elections, it has souped up the media to better serve the message.


“The Onion ramps up speed of satire in Campaign 2016”
by Patrick Mairs
AP
September 11, 2016

Even satire has a shelf life.

The OnionIn a presidential campaign with fast-changing headlines that sometimes defy belief, The Onion has managed to maintain its niche by becoming more agile, just like real news organizations.

The 28-year-old satirical media outlet, famous for creating fake news, has evolved with technology a bit like everyone else, including the news industry it parodies. For the first time, The Onion this summer sent staffers to the Democratic and Republican conventions.

“Although technology requires media to be much quicker, it also allows us to be a bit faster, and we’ve started training ourselves and developing ways that we can be a little more reactive, too,” said Matt Klinman, The Onion’s head writer for video.

Klinman was part of a team of staffers sent to the conventions in Philadelphia and Cleveland with a goal of mocking the news in something close to real time. Its video team quickly posted full-length clips of high-profile convention speeches on Facebook, complete with cable news-style graphics that included jokes and commentary.

“We’ve been sort of wanting to crack a way of doing live coverage as The Onion for a long time,” Klinman said.

The Onion’s sarcastic take on political gatherings apparently struck a chord on Facebook, where its convention videos outpaced those from major news outlets such as The New York Times, ABC, NBC and CNN for much of the two-week period when the meetings were held. The data come from Tubular Labs, an analytics firm The Onion uses to track video views.

The Chicago-based Onion is planning similar coverage for the upcoming presidential debates. Read more.

Fake Dog Poop App Gets Traction

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Filed under: Bullshit Detector Watch, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Satire

Apparently, it can be difficult to distinguish satire of California startup culture’s frivolity from the real thing, even when it’s combined with the most tried-and-true prankster tropes. Perhaps the oddest thing about Elliot Glass and Ben Becker’s “Uber for Poop” prank is that the app itself isn’t real. It’s hardly surprising that the tech media picked it up with no gloves.


“How a Fake Dog Poop App Fooled the Media”
by Zach Schonfeld
Newsweek
July 29, 2016

AOTPPooperPooper, the bold new app that markets itself as an Uber for dogshit, was nothing but dogshit all along.

Well, pretty clever dogshit: What appeared to be an outrageously inessential poop-disrupting start-up was really—of course—”an art project that satirizes our app-obsessed world.”

What’s more surprising is that it worked: Since its initial announcement, Pooper has secured attention from dozens of media outlets—most of whom were bamboozled into thinking it’s real—and piqued interest from investors. Pooper also intrigued a bunch of eager would-be users, who (if the app were real, which it is not) would be able to summon nearby strangers to scoop up dog turds with the push of a button.

“We’ve gotten hundreds of sign-ups,” claims Ben Becker, who devised the hoax with a friend, Elliot Glass. “People have been signing up to be both poopers and scoopers.”

Becker, a creative director in the advertising world, and Glass, a designer and web developer in Los Angeles, hatched the idea this past winter during a discussion about navel-gazing startup culture. “We wanted to begin a project that reflected the state of technology—specifically apps,” says Becker in a phone interview. “Taking the visual signifiers and language and the entire world and inhabiting it, inserting an absurd purpose for it. In this case, that would be dog poop.” Read more.

Pokemon Go Crime Wave… Not

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

In less than a week, Nintendo’s new mobile game Pokemon Go has become a 2016 pop-culture phenomenon. (It is, you see, pretty much the only recent news item that isn’t wildly depressing.) With all the hype, think-pieces, newsjacking, and Facebook-sharing, some skepticism was lost in the shuffle.


“The Man Behind the Pokemon Crime Wave”
by Ben Collins and Kate Briquelet
The Daily Beast
July 11, 2016

wigglytuffAmerica is going crazy for the new game—crazy enough to kill, if you believe all the stories on Facebook. But the bloodbath is fake, and The Daily Beast tracked down the man behind it.

At CartelPress.com, the death toll from the first weekend of Pokémon GO is still piling up.

If you’re to believe that website, the new augmented reality game that has users walking into public parks and streets to catch Pokémon—and is nearing as many daily active users as Twitter—is responsible for a bloodbath. A teen killed his brother over a low-rent Pokémon called a Pidgey, the site reports. Countless were left dead on a Massachusetts highway when a 26-year-old stopped in the middle of the road to catch a Pikachu, it also alleges. And now, on CartelPress.com, the so-called Islamic State widely known as ISIS is claiming credit for the biggest Pokémon tragedy of all: rampant server issues.
Unbelievable.

No, really. It should be unbelievable. But 10,000 people shared that first story on Facebook. More than 64,000 shared the last one. And the Pokémon highway accident? Three hundred eighty-four thousand shares on Facebook in a couple of days.

And none of them are real.

CartelPress is just one part of the Pokésteria.

Now gamers on other sites are fooling people into donating to a Texas-based Uber driver who claims he witnessed a murder scene while trawling for Pokémon over the weekend—even though that murder scene, just like the rest of these stories, never existed.

That didn’t stop plenty of reputable news agencies from recycling the Satanic Panic-esque stories that were always too good to be true. The Atlantic referenced the highway death in the middle of its story “The Tragedy of Pokémon GO.” The New York Post did the same.

There are plenty more. Pablo Reyes almost caught ’em all. According to the 26-year-old internet prankster—who flooded America’s elevators and drive time radio shows with fake Pokécrime he invented on CartelPress, a new site he created—it’s all one big coding mistake. Read on for the interview.

Make Dating Great Again!

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, You Decide

This international dating startup may or may not be real, but as a politically charged publicity stunt, it’s hilarious.


“There’s A Dating Site For Americans Who Want To Escape A Trump Presidency”
by Kimberly Yam
The Huffington Post
May 11, 2016

New dating site Maple Match helps Americans find a Canadian partner for a special mission — to “save them from the unfathomable horror of a Trump presidency.”

AOTP_TrumpDating

And the service’s tagline? “Make dating great again,” natch.

The site launched about a week ago and the app hasn’t even been released yet, but the concept has already proven popular, NBC News reported. Thousands of people have already signed up to nab a spot on the waitlist and this past Friday, the site had 200 sign-up requests an hour.

“This is about finding the right partner and not caring if they’re on the other side of the border,” CEO Joe Goldman explained to The Guardian. “You should go to a place where you’ll be happy. For a number of Americans, in the event of a Trump presidency, that place would be Canada.” Whole thing here.


To Goose a Rival, Audubon Made Up Dozens of Creatures

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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.

Meet the Street Artists Who Pranked Showtime

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters

After planting a special Arabic message on the set of Showtime’s hit show Homeland, Heba Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl became internationally notorious. They explain themselves in Homeland Is Not a Series, a short film from The Intercept’s wonderful Field of Vision video series. Check out the video and the accompanying interview.

homeland-filmmakers-feature-hero

“Interview With Hebia Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl of Homeland Is Not a Series”
by Eric Hynes
The Intercept
December 20, 2015

Commissioned to apply realistic graffiti to sets for the popular Showtime series Homeland, three artists and activists took the opportunity to critique their employer by painting satirical and damning phrases in Arabic — such as “Homeland is NOT a series” and “Homeland is racist” — that nobody on the Homeland team seemed to notice. That is, until an episode that aired worldwide in October was watched by viewers who could read Arabic. Within days, the political prank became an international media sensation.

The conspirators behind the Homeland hack, Heba Yehia Amin, Caram Kapp, and Don Karl, come from a diverse array of disciplines and backgrounds. Amin is a visual artist and professor born and based in Cairo; Kapp is a Cairo-born, Berlin-based graphic designer and multimedia artist; and Karl is a Berlin-based graffiti writer and author. When the following interview was conducted, kaleidoscopically via Google Hangout, the trio was collaborating on the edit for Homeland Is Not a Series from three separate cities.

In anticipation of bringing this latest iteration of their project to Field of Vision, the “Arabian Street Artists,” as they cheekily refer to themselves, talked about the effectiveness of humor as a weapon against intolerance, the challenges of making a movie when they don’t consider themselves filmmakers by trade, and how they’re trying to foster further discussion around Western representations of Middle Eastern culture.

Read the full interview here.

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.


The April Fool’s Day Parade gets the NYT Treatment

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

The Annual April Fool’s Day Parade has long been among Joey Skaggs’s most highly visible projects.


“A Fool’s Parade”
by Alexandra S. Levine
The New York Times
April 1, 2016

You’ve heard of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, right?

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? Of course.

But the April Fools’ Day Parade?

01NYTODAY-articleLarge

The procession is expected to file from 59th Street and Fifth Avenue down to Washington Square Park, beginning at noon, rain or shine.

Organized by the New York April Fools’ Committee, the spectacle is intended to poke fun at public figures — celebrities, politicians, executives and anyone else who has proved deserving of caricature.

“Nothing is sacred. Our satire knows no bounds,” the committee said in a statement, adding, “The Parade Committee assumes no liability for damages caused by satire.”

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, (a look-alike, of course) leads the parade, sitting atop a ballistic missile float.

The “Hypocrisy and Democracy” float features presidential candidates yelling confusing speeches at passers-by.

And Kanye West rides the “Infinity Mirror” float, because, well, organizers think he could stare at his own reflection until the end of time.

Just kidding.

To all of the above.

The nonexistent parade is solely a fixture in the imagination of the New York artist Joey Skaggs, a prankster who creates elaborate hoaxes as a form of social activism.

He’s blasted out news releases, posted videos and has managed to get his April Fools’ Day Parade website appearing near the top of search engine results.

“It’s a mystery to me how we continue to enable fools to make fools of us,” Mr. Skaggs said.

Touché.


Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Pranks GOP Supporters

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Media Pranks, Parody

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog sends women posing as Fox News reporters to GOP political events to ask some tough questions.

Thanks Steven Beer!


April Fool’s 2015 Geeky Gags from the Tech Sphere (Roundup)

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts

It’s April Fool’s Day, and TechCrunch is sending mixed signals. Yesterday, it published a rant about timely corporate PR stunts echoing the grumpy, contrarian style of the blog’s departed founder Michael Arrington.

And yet, today, it posted a fun gallery of its industry’s most clever gags, including a steam-powered gaming console, a reddit community dedicated to remixes of the Space Jam theme, and much more.

Is it attempting to drum up controversy? Who even knows anymore!


“April Fool’s 2015: The Mega-Roundup Of The Best Gags”
By Greg Kumparak
TechCrunch
April 1, 2015

Space Jam /r/listentothisIt’s that time of year again! The time when a massive chunk of the tech industry drops what it’s doing and puts all of its collective effort into getting a few laughs. As we do every year, we’re gathering up the best/worse/most cringe-tastic efforts in one place for your perusal. We’ll be updating this list as the day goes on, so check back in later! Read more.

“Measles Parties” Hoax Infects the Media

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Filed under: Media Pranks

Measles Parties, Moral Panics and Folk Devils… Oh My!
by Edward Coll
February 10, 2015

In the market for eyeballs, mass media seldom misses an opportunity to misinform the public and create controversy by ginning up a climate of fear by fabricating folk devils and a moral panic amidst a crisis.

The Disneyland measles outbreak provides the most recent example.

partyMedia outlets from Fox to NPR spread a rumor that the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) issued a bulletin advising parents not to take children to “measles parties” to intentionally infect their children. Supposedly, these parties are being thrown by anti-vaxers to give their children “natural immunity.”

No such bulletin was ever issued by the CDPH and according to the respected debunking site Snopes.com here is what really happened:

“… a California health official explained to us that before the rumor circulated, a news outlet called to inquire whether the department had received any reports about measles parties. When a representative stated no such reports had been received, the reporter asked about the agency’s position on measles parties and was (predictably) told public health officials advised against them.”

This CPDH response to these nonexistent measles parties was morphed into a “bulletin” giving credibility to a false rumor created and spread by the media outlets themselves. Time, Salon, ABC News, LA Times, and Washington Post, to name just some, are all still actively spreading the rumor. None have retracted the story yet.

Perhaps the broadcast outlets intentional spreading of this false rumor shows the scant regard they hold for their public interest obligations.

image: Salon (Yuganov Konstantin via Shutterstock)


VICE Falls for Dream Hoax

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Pranksters, Urban Legends

thisman.org
thisman.org

If you’ve ever seen this man in your dreams, you’re not alone. Famed prankster Andrea Natella’s long-lived dreamy hoax just caught VICE sleeping.

Read VICE’s mea culpa: Ugh, We Just Got Hoaxed: The Real Story About the ‘This Man’ Dream Face, January 15, 2015

Joaquin Phoenix Pranks David Letterman Again

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Filed under: Media Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, The History of Pranks

phoenixlettermanWhen he retires from television in 2015, David Letterman will wrap a remarkable career of stunts, water-cooler bombshells, and awkward celebrity interviews.

In some cases, Letterman has been seemingly ambushed by guests who were physically combative (Crispin Glover), doped out of their gourds (Farrah Fawcett, Harmony Korine), or simply engaging in the unhinged antics that are their calling cards (Courtney Love, who inspired the host to quip, “I’m glad I have a son.”)

In others, the hosts and his guests have worked in collaboration. Witness the legendary encounter between comedian Andy Kaufman and wrestler Jerry Lawler.

More recently, actor Joaquin Phoenix used a disturbing and incoherent Letterman appearance to promote his controversial documentary I’m Still Here, for which he embarked on a half-assed hip hop career. Letterman later admitted that he was in on the gag.

Earlier this month, Phoenix returned to the show to announce that, like Alec Baldwin before him, he had decided to marry his yoga instructor. Read more here.

Watch the video: