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

Music to Whose Ears?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Hype, Illusion and Magic, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Spin

A mystery tour with fake websites, fake audiences, fake interviews, fake music label, fake management, fake video production company and at least one really good musician.

As Jered Threatin (if that’s his real name) says… “What is Fake News? I turned an empty room into an international headline. If you are reading this, you are part of the illusion.”


The Story of Threatin, a Most Puzzling Hoax Even for 2018
by Jonah Engel Bromwich
The New York Times
November 16, 2018

A rock band went on tour in the U.K. and nobody came. Then it got weird.

In April, Jered Threatin began to hold auditions for a backing band. He chose three musicians and told them they would embark on an all-expenses paid European tour with his band, Threatin.

The first stop was The Underworld in London. Someone representing Threatin had paid £780 (roughly $1,010) to book it for the night of Nov. 1 and told Patrice Lovelace, an in-house promoter at the club, that the band had sold 291 tickets for the show.

But when the band went on, there were only three people in the audience.

“It was only on show day when no customer list for the 291 customers was produced that we realized we’d been duped,” Ms. Lovelace said. “The show went ahead with only the supports, staff and crew in attendance. The bar made almost zero money, and it was all extremely bizarre. And empty, obviously.”

The next few gigs were similarly barren. After a show at The Exchange in Bristol on Nov. 5, for which a promoter claimed to have sold 182 tickets, staff at the venue decided to investigate the band. After all, someone had paid more than $500 to book the venue.

Nearly everything associated with Threatin, it would turn out, was an illusion. Iwan Best, a venue manager at The Exchange, said they found that each of the websites associated with Threatin — the band’s “label” Superlative Music Recordings; its management company, Aligned Artist Management; and the video production company that directed the band’s video — were all registered to the same GoDaddy account. (The pages were built under a parent site seemingly associated with Superlative Music, the fake label.)

Watch the “Living is Dying” music video

(more…)

Shooting Fish in a Barrel for Profit

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation

This pathetic story oozes with irony.
h/t Felipe & Eli


‘Nothing on this page is real’: How lies become truth in online America
by Eli Saslow
Washington Post
November 17, 2018

Christopher Blair, 46, sits at his desk at home in Maine and checks his Facebook page, America’s Last Line of Defense. He launched the political-satire portal with other liberal bloggers during the 2016 presidential campaign. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

NORTH WATERBORO, Maine — The only light in the house came from the glow of three computer monitors, and Christopher Blair, 46, sat down at a keyboard and started to type. His wife had left for work and his children were on their way to school, but waiting online was his other community, an unreality where nothing was exactly as it seemed. He logged onto his website and began to invent his first news story of the day.

“BREAKING,” he wrote, pecking out each letter with his index fingers as he considered the possibilities. Maybe he would announce that Hillary Clinton had died during a secret overseas mission to smuggle more refugees into America. Maybe he would award President Trump the Nobel Peace Prize for his courage in denying climate change.

A new message popped onto Blair’s screen from a friend who helped with his website. “What viral insanity should we spread this morning?” the friend asked. (more…)

Glory Holes in New Zealand… Who’s Got the Balls?

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Letting it all hang out…
h/t Erin


New Zealand launches balls checking booth for testicular cancer
BBC
November 15, 2018

If you’re too shy to face a doctor, the Testimatic is just the thing for you. TESTICULAR CANCER NZ

Ever thought of getting a health check but worried about having to, well, drop your pants? Meet the Testimatic.

That’s a booth to allow New Zealand men to have their testicles checked without having to face a doctor.

Testicular cancer is the number one cancer in young men in Western nations and the booth is being rolled out with fanfare at a big expo in Auckland.

How does it work? Into the booth, down with the pants and a doctor will check you anonymously through a little hole.

The booth is set up at this weekend’s Big Boys Toys expo, a huge exhibition catering to all things men stereotypically are supposed to be into.

So that’s stuff like cars, gadgets, action sports, barbeque or construction machinery.

Read the rest of this article here.

Cockroaches on the Menu!

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, You Decide

Roaches are yummy and good for you too! Joey Skaggs’ Metamorphosis: Miracle Roach Hormone Cure hoax remembered…


The Right Chemistry: Cockroach milk a ‘superfood’?
by Joe Schwarcz
Montreal Gazette via The London Free Press
October 12, 2018

It’s not a prank, but any suggestion that the crystals represent a viable alternative to dairy milk for people is a very, very big stretch.

Back in 1981, entomologist Josef Gregor called a press conference to announce a remarkable discovery. He had bred a novel species of cockroach from which he managed to extract a hormone that, when incorporated into a pill, exhibited amazing properties. It cured conditions ranging from acne and allergies to asthma and arthritis! “Roach hormone hailed as miracle drug” crowed headlines. Some 175 newspapers went on to feature testimonials attesting to the wonders of the hormone pills.

Subsequently, Gregor was invited to appear on various television programs where he described that cockroaches were impervious to radiation and that in addition to its curative properties for a plethora of ailments, his pills would offer protection against radiation exposure. It all sounded great, but there was one tiny little problem. There was no Josef Gregor, and there was no cockroach hormone! Gregor was actually Joey Skaggs, a teacher at New York’s School of Visual Arts, who relished pulling off hoaxes to show how the media could be duped into reporting nonsensical stories because of a failure to fact-check. And that was decades before the current wave of publicity about “fake news!”

Watch the video

Recalling the “cockroach hormone” episode, I figured a prankster must have been at work when the headline, “Scientists Think Cockroach Milk Could Be the Next Superfood,” recently scooted across the internet. Obviously, fact-checking was in order. While the headline was typical click-bait, it was actually spawned by legitimate research.

In 2016, a paper in the Journal of the International Union of Crystallography reported some intriguing research about the unique “Pacific Beetle” cockroach (Diploptera punctate). Why unique? Because it is viviparous, meaning the females give birth to live offspring. The term derives from the Latin “vivus” for “alive,” and “parere,” meaning “to bring forth” or “to bear.”

Read the rest of this article here.

Banksy Shreds His Own Art at Auction

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Prank News, Pranksters, You Decide

Banksy pulls confetti stunt with/at auction house to shock art buyers.


Banksy painting ‘self-destructs’ moments after being sold for $1.4 million at auction
CNN
by Andreas Preuss
October 6, 2018

For an artist that’s known for his stunts, this could be Banksy’s most perfect art world prank.

After the gavel fell Friday at Sotheby’s auction house in London, Banksy’s Girl with Balloon was reduced to shreds — another apparent act in the disruptive career of the anonymous British graffiti artist.

The iconic image of a girl reaching out for a red, heart-shaped balloon, sold for $1.4 million and moments later, a shredder hidden inside the “artist’s frame” started its work, according to a news release from Sotheby’s and the art “self-destructed.”

Banksy summed up the stunt with this quote on his Instagram account – “Going, going, gone…” and a posted picture showed stunned onlookers as the shredded art emerges from the bottom of the frame. (more…)

Academic Journalism?

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Filed under: Literary Hoaxes, Media Literacy, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation

Three academic scholars prove once again that you can’t trust academic journalism, especially when it comes to “grievance studies”. From Vinay Menon in The Star: “They are self-described liberals. They are merely exposing what many others have claimed in recent years, namely that radicals are polluting certain disciplines from the inside. These “social justice warriors,” the argument goes, are sacrificing objective truth for social constructivism. They are blowing up enlightenment values and the scientific method to advance agendas in the culture wars.”

h/t Peter, Linda, Susanne


Universities get schooled on ‘breastaurants’ and ‘fat bodybuilding’
by Vinay Menon
The Star
October 5, 2018

Oh, the humanities.

Fake news grabbed academia by the tweedy lapels this week, after three scholars confessed to a brazen hoax. Over the last year, Helen Pluckrose, Peter Boghossian and James A. Lindsay wrote bogus papers, which they submitted to peer-reviewed journals in various fields they now lump together as “grievance studies.”

James Lindsay, Helen Pluckrose and Peter Boghossian (Mike Nayna)

In one “study,” published in a journal of “feminist geography,” they analyzed “rape culture” in three Portland dog parks: “How do human companions manage, contribute, and respond to violence in dogs?”

In another, using a contrived thesis inspired by Frankenstein and Lacanian psychoanalysis, they argued artificial intelligence is a threat to humanity due to the underlying “masculinist and imperialist” programming.

They advocated for introducing a new category — “fat bodybuilding” — to the muscle-biased sport. They called for “queer astrology” to be included in astronomy. They offered a “feminist rewrite” of a chapter from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. They searched for postmodern answers to ridiculous queries such as: why do straight men enjoy eating at “breastaurants” such as Hooters? (more…)

Tom Bob’s Street Art

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Illusion and Magic

Artist Tom Bob takes everyday functional urban pipes, meters and hardware and turns them into creative and amusing works of art. Thanks Don.


Early Hoax?

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Filed under: Art Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, The History of Pranks, The Prank as Art

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane. It’s…


The Painting “Madonna of the UFO”
FlorenceInferno.com
June 9, 2014

The “Madonna of the UFO” or “Madonna of the flying saucer” is a painting located in Palazzo Vecchio in Florence in the Hall of Hercules. Also called “Madonna and Child with the Infant St John”, the painting has been the topic of much debate between art experts and ufologists. While the painting depicts the Nativity with the infant St. John in the foreground, in the background one can see a man curiously watching an unidentified flying object (UFO).

THE AUTHOR OF THE MADONNA OF THE UFO
The painting is of unknown origin, but it probably dates from as early as the sixteenth century. The caption under the picture attributes authorship to either Sebastiano Mainardi or Jacopo del Sellaio; conversely, some scholars attribute it to Filippo Lippi, also known as “Maestro del Tondo Miller,” after the title of one of his last works.

Moreover, we only know that the work comes from the forgotten convent of Sant’Orsola in the district of San Lorenzo in Florence.

THE DESCRIPTION OF THE PAINTING
The painting is round, is one meter in diameter, and is adorned with a precious golden frame; it is located in the Hall of Hercules on the second floor of the Palazzo Vecchio, which takes its name from the coffered ceiling depicting the Twelve Labours of Hercules.

The circular painting bears the usual iconographic motif of the Renaissance: in the foreground the Virgin is seen kneeling with folded hands and leaning toward the baby, who is lying on a hem of her garment.

While the baby Jesus is reaching his hand toward his mother, St. John is attempting to support him. Behind the head of the Madonna, an ellipsoidal object can be seen in the sky, one that is very similar to modern depictions of UFOs. There is also a man painted in the background, a shepherd, with his hand on his forehead and his head turned toward the sky. Next to him is a dog that is also looking in the direction of the flying object.

Read the rest of this article here

Read more about this at Historic Mysteries.

An Ass by Any Other Name is Still an Ass

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, Why Do a Prank?

Egyptian zoo shows its stripes.


Egypt zoo accused of painting donkey to look like a zebra
BBC News
July 26, 2018

A zoo in Egypt has denied painting black stripes on a donkey to make it look like a zebra after a photo of the animal appeared online.

Student Mahmoud Sarhan put the images on Facebook after visiting Cairo’s International Garden municipal park.

Aside from its small size and pointy ears, there were also black smudges on its face.

The pictures quickly went viral, with experts weighing in on the species of the animal.

A vet contacted by local news group Extranews.tv said that a zebra’s snout is black, while its stripes are more consistent and parallel.

Mr Sarhan told Extranews that the enclosure contained two animals and that both had been painted.

This is not the first time that a zoo has been accused of trying to fool its audience.

Unable to find a way around the Israeli blockade, a zoo in Gaza painted two donkeys to look like zebras in 2009.

Another Gaza zoo put stuffed animals on display in 2012 because of the shortages of animals.

In 2013, a Chinese zoo in Henan province tried to pass off a Tibetan mastiff dog as an African lion, and in 2017 a zoo in Guangxi province disappointed visitors by exhibiting blow-up plastic penguins.

Weeks later, another Guangxi zoo drew condemnation for displaying plastic butterflies.

Taxidermied Anteater Fools Photography Contest Judges

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Prank News, You Decide

Well, it was alive at some point…


Wildlife photo competition disqualifies ‘stuffed anteater’ image
by Jonathan Amos
BBC Science Correspondent
27 April 2018

A winning entry in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition has been disqualified for featuring a taxidermy specimen.

The image, known as The Night Raider, shows an anteater moving towards a termite mound in a Brazilian reserve.

Mr Cabral said flashes and a long exposure were needed to capture the scene

London’s Natural History Museum, which runs the competition, says the use of stuffed animals breaches its rules.

The photographer, Marcio Cabral, denies he faked the scene and claims there is a witness who was with him on the day.

Other photographers and tourists were in the park at the same time and therefore “it would be very unlikely anyone wouldn’t see a stuffed animal being transported and placed carefully in this position”, he told BBC News.

But Roz Kidman Cox, the chair of judges for Wildlife Photographer of the Year (WPY), was stern in her criticism.

“This disqualification should remind entrants that any transgression of the rules and spirit of the competition will eventually be found out,” she said.

The taxidermy specimen is held at a visitors’ centre at an entrance to the park

The Night Raider picture won the Animals In Their Environment category in the 2017 WPY awards. It was taken in Emas National Park. (more…)

Google Maps, the Fraud Frontier

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

It’s the wild, wild west. Why has Google Maps, “plagued by fake reviews, ghost listings, lead generation schemes and impersonators,” barely begun to fight back?


These online volunteers fight fake reviews, ghost listings and other scams on Google Maps — and say the problem’s getting worse
by Jillian D’Onfro
CNBC
April 13, 2018

Tom Waddington was hanging out at a friend’s house when he got an unexpected notification from Google Maps.

Waddington is part of a group of Google Maps advocates who are trying to improve the service, so he lets Google track his location and frequently adds photos or edits to Maps listings.

So the notification itself was routine, but the message was strange: Maps wanted him to contribute information about the Urgent Care center nearby. He was in a residential neighborhood.

He opened the app and, sure enough, one of the houses next door was listed as a clinic. A telemedicine company that also made house calls had falsely claimed that physical address to try to increase business. The scammers hoped potential patients would search Maps for Urgent Care centers nearby, then call its number to schedule a house call or virtual appointment.

These growth-hacking scams can have consequences: Waddington found someone who claimed to have taken his child to one of these non-existent clinics. Read the rest here.

Behold Instagram’s Digital Conmen

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation

Money, money, money… money.

“Oyefeso is one of the most high-profile figures of an internet subculture that reveres Jordan Belfort and has taken his Wolf of Wall Street persona to social media. Posing as ultra-wealthy kids and posting internet memes taken from the movie, its followers aggressively sign up young people to what looks like an international pyramid scheme that has helped to generate billions of pounds for large companies selling highly risky financial trading products.” -Symeon Brown


Fake it till you make it: meet the wolves of Instagram
by Symeon Brown
The Guardian
April 19, 2018

Their hero is Jordan Belfort, their social media feeds display super-rich lifestyles. But what are these self-styled traders really selling?

The original Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort, was a rogue trader convicted of fraudulently selling worthless penny stocks to naive investors. His biopic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as the ostentatious, money-obsessed huckster, was a box-office hit in 2013. Although it may have been intended as a cautionary tale, to thousands of young millennials from humble backgrounds, Belfort’s story became a blueprint for how to escape an unremarkable life on low pay.

Within months of the Wolf of Wall Street’s UK premiere in January 2014, a stocky 21-year-old named Elijah Oyefeso from a south London housing estate, began broadcasting on social media how much money he was making as a stock-market whizzkid. His thousands of young followers were desperate to do the same. As Oyefeso’s online fame grew, he caught the attention of TV producers. In January 2016, Oyefeso was featured in the Channel 4 show Rich Kids Go Shopping, in which he bought expensive jumpers to give to homeless people and showed viewers how easy it was to make stock trades online.

Even before Oyefeso’s appearance on mainstream TV, his story had already gone viral. British tabloids, including the Daily Mail, the Evening Standard and the Mirror, as well as a host of online magazines targeted at young men, all ran pieces about his success. The Mail headline described him as a university dropout who supposedly used his student loan to start trading financial products online and “now claims he earns £30,000 on a BAD month – by working just ONE HOUR a day”.

It’s an image of self-made wealth and ridiculous luxury, and one that Oyefeso has intensively cultivated online. The videos on his almost comedic YouTube channel, which have hundreds of thousands of views, feature him buying £250,000 cars and boarding private jets as nonchalantly as others his age might hail an Uber. His Instagram, which regularly shows him posing next to a blue and silver Rolls-Royce, describes him as the founder of DCT, his trading firm. DCT stands for “Dreams Come True”.

“I’m never going to work for someone,” Oyefeso says in one of his videos, in a somewhat cartoonish, nasal voice, while he drives his Rolls dressed in a bathrobe. “Look what I’ve built: a foundation. A brand.” Read more

Sinclair Broadcasting Screams “Fake News” But They Are Fake News!

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Filed under: First Amendment Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

Gene Policinski, President & COO of the Newseum Institute, opines on the Sinclair Publishing hostage scenario revealed by Deadspin in a video of news anchors all over the country spouting chillingly identical propaganda.


Policinski: Next time, just put your name to the message
Gene Policinski
Indise the First Amendment
April 7, 2018

Sinclair Broadcasting’s recent promotional message on the state of today’s news — delivered to its TV audiences nationwide — is as protected by the First Amendment as it was an oafish attempt to hide corporate messaging under the veneer of local news reporting.

In other words, it was commentary from a conservative company that has a First Amendment right to express its views, but it was also a shoddy tactic that undermined the very thing Sinclair’s leadership claimed to support: good journalism.

Deadspin — an online sports news site — put together a now widely shared video of news anchors from 45 Sinclair-owned American stations, all reading in synchrony from the same script. The video’s echo-chamber effect laid bare what many have described as an “Orwellian” attempt to deliver a persuasive message using trusted voices in local journalism.

Watch the video:
Sinclair’s Soldiers in Trump’s War on Media Video, by Deadspin

The mash-up of TV anchors, delivering the script with varying degrees of sincerity, prompted dire warnings from left-leaning cable news commentators about media consolidation and ulterior political motives.

President Trump tweeted a defense of Sinclair, using the controversy to take yet another swipe at the same mainstream news outlets he frequently attacks: “So funny to watch Fake News Networks, among the most dishonest groups of people I have ever dealt with, criticize Sinclair Broadcasting for being biased.”

Trump has it wrong — critics took aim at the method, not the message.

Let’s parse the actual effort… Read the rest of this article here.

The Anti-Algorithm Hat

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, You Decide

For savvy fashionista paranoiacs, tinfoil just won’t cut it anymore.


“There’s Now a Hat That Can Fool Facial Recognition Technology”
By Sean Keach
The Sun
March 23, 2018

Scientists have invented a baseball cap that can trick facial recognition tech into thinking you’re someone else entirely.

The hi-tech headwear uses laser dots to fool software like Apple’s Face ID, which works by scanning your face to identify who you are.

Scientists at China’s Fudan University laced the inside of the cap with tiny LED lights, which project infrared dots onto your face.

These dots aren’t visible to the naked eye, but they’ll be picked up by facial recognition systems.

Apple’s iPhone face-scanning works by using an infrared blaster to project dots all over your face. By tracking these dots, it can work out the structure of your face — and identify you. Read more.

Aviv Ovadya and the Coming “Infocalypse”

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

In a far-ranging, frightening, and fascinating interview, Buzzfeed News catches up with engineer and tech prognosticator Aviv Ovadya, who anticipated the current scourge of “fake news” and says we haven’t seen anything yet.


“He Predicted The 2016 Fake News Crisis. Now He’s Worried About An Information Apocalypse.”
By Charlie Warzel
Buzzfeed
February 11, 2018

In mid-2016, Aviv Ovadya realized there was something fundamentally wrong with the internet — so wrong that he abandoned his work and sounded an alarm. A few weeks before the 2016 election, he presented his concerns to technologists in San Francisco’s Bay Area and warned of an impending crisis of misinformation in a presentation he titled “Infocalypse”

The web and the information ecosystem that had developed around it was wildly unhealthy, Ovadya argued. The incentives that governed its biggest platforms were calibrated to reward information that was often misleading and polarizing, or both. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Google prioritized clicks, shares, ads, and money over quality of information, and Ovadya couldn’t shake the feeling that it was all building toward something bad — a kind of critical threshold of addictive and toxic misinformation. The presentation was largely ignored by employees from the Big Tech platforms — including a few from Facebook who would later go on to drive the company’s NewsFeed integrity effort.

“At the time, it felt like we were in a car careening out of control and it wasn’t just that everyone was saying, “we’ll be fine’ — it’s that they didn’t even see the car,” he said.

Ovadya saw early what many — including lawmakers, journalists, and Big Tech CEOs — wouldn’t grasp until months later: Our platformed and algorithmically optimized world is vulnerable — to propaganda, to misinformation, to dark targeted advertising from foreign governments — so much so that it threatens to undermine a cornerstone of human discourse: the credibility of fact.

But it’s what he sees coming next that will really scare the shit out of you. Read more.