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

Activists Tanked CBS’s “The Activist”

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Filed under: Co-option (If You Can't Beat 'Em...), Creative Activism, Hype, Political Challenges, Spin

Reality TV got caught trying to be real. CBS was casting for a new reality TV show called The Activist where social issue crusaders would be pitted against each other. h/t Naomi

POSTSCRIPT: The loud outcry against this pathetically bad idea resulted in a complete reconfiguring of the show.


Inside ‘The Activist’ Meltdowns as the Entire Shitshow Spiraled Out of Control, by Cheyenne Roundtree. The Daily Beast, September 15, 2021

The backlash against “The Activist” continues, with an open letter and response from host Julianne Hough. The Daily Beast spoke with two activists who were approached by the show.

Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway

It took just a few hours for CBS’s new reality competition The Activist to be globally panned. A Frankenstein mashup of a Hunger Games-style dystopian world mixed with hints of Survivor and The Apprentice, the show places six activists into teams and pairs them with a “high-profile public figure” to duke it out in challenges to promote their various causes. At the end of the five-episode series, they will have the chance to pitch their cause at the G20 Summit in Rome. Whoever secures the most funding wins the show.

Instead of world leaders or any sort of mission-driven experts being tapped to host the show, Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough will serve as co-hosts and offer up advice to the contestants.

The Daily Beast reviewed the six contestants’ social media accounts—including TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram profiles—which were all created in August. One posted, “Help me win by commenting and liking my posts through the next few missions!” Another contestant thanked his followers for donating to his GoFundMe, which went towards covering the unpaid time off he took as an elementary teacher in order to compete on the show.

Needless to say, the announcement of a show that pits serious causes against one another and then relies on superficial social media metrics to determine which campaign is more successful—in the middle of global pandemic—did not go over well.

Read the rest here.

Hitler Searched for Aryan Origins in Tibet Because of a Divine Thunderbolt. What?

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

When you’re a desperate despot, fantasy is apparently much more persuasive than reality.


When Nazis tried to trace Aryan race myth in Tibet, by Vaibhav Purandare, BBC, September 15, 2021

In 1938, Heinrich Himmler, a leading member of Germany’s Nazi party and a key architect of the Holocaust, sent a five-member team to Tibet to search for the origins of the supposed Aryan race. Author Vaibhav Purandare recounts the fascinating story of this expedition, which passed through India.

Bruno Beger, second left, and others at a meeting in Lhasa in Tibet in 1939, by Ullstein Bild/Getty

A little over a year before World War Two began, a group of Germans landed surreptitiously along India’s eastern borders.

They were on a mission to discover the “source of origin of the Aryan race”.

Adolf Hitler believed that “Aryan” Nordic people had entered India from the north some 1,500 years earlier, and that the Aryans had committed the “crime” of mixing with the local “un-Aryan” people, losing the attributes that had made them racially superior to all other people on earth.

Hitler regularly expressed deep antipathy for the Indian people and their struggle for freedom, articulating his sentiments in his speeches, writings and debates.

Yet, according to Himmler, one of Hitler’s top lieutenants and the head of the SS, the Indian subcontinent was still worth a close look.

This is where Tibet came into the picture. (more…)

Apparently, Reality is a Spectrum

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Parody, Prank News, Pranksters, Spin

Fictional ‘influencers’ with millions of followers are taking over TikTok, by Andrew Court, New York Post, October 12, 2021

“Sydney,” “Tia” and “Ollie.”

Some social media influencers appear to lead lives that seem too good to be true — and now it turns out that that’s actually the case.

Over the past eight months, entertainment startup FourFront has created 22 fictional “TikTok influencers,” hiring writers to craft their scripts and real-life actors to play them.

Each day, the actors upload new videos to the respective TikTok accounts, detailing their characters’ latest fictional exploits for hundreds of thousands of followers.

Collectively, the characters have amassed a whopping 281 million video views, Insider reports, with FourFront creating a new frontier in scripted storytelling on the social media app.

Read the rest of the story here.

Proof You Can Fool Some of the People Most of the Time

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

Russian official admits staging bogus yeti sightings to attract tourists to Siberia, by Yaron Steinbuch, New York Post, April 9, 2021

Aman Tuleev with Vladimir Makuta (right) and a man dressed in yeti costume.

It was an abominable Russian snow job.

Aman Tuleyev — one of President Vladimir Putin’s longest-serving regional leaders — has copped to arranging bogus sightings of the yeti to attract tourists in Siberia, East2West News reported.

Tuleyev, 76, who was governor of Kemerovo Oblast from 1997 to 2018, ordered a tall bureaucrat to wear an Abominable Snowman outfit so he could be spotted in the bushes by visitors to the cash-strapped Siberian region.

Read the rest here.

Join Us at New York City’s 36th Annual April Fools’ Day Parade!

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Parody, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The History of Pranks, Urban Legends

NYC April Fools' Day Parade jester

The New York April Fools’ Committee Is Proud to Announce:
NEW YORK CITY’S 36th ANNUAL APRIL FOOLS’ DAY PARADE

“DENY, DENY, LIE, LIE!”

The only New York City parade dedicated to conspiracy theorists!

New York’s irreverent April Fools’ Day Parade, poking fun at the past year’s displays of hype, hypocrisy, deceit, bigotry, and downright stupidity, is back for the 36th year!

The public is invited to create outrageous floats and dress up as look-alikes in colorful costumes to reflect the folly of the nuttiest politicians, crooked corporate leaders, silly celebrities, and whoever else has proved to be a total fool in the past year.

Floats should be no wider than 10’ and no longer than 30’. They can be self-propelled, towed, pushed or pulled. Customized bicycles, tricycles, baby carriages and helium balloons are welcome. The Parade Committee assumes no liability for damage caused by satire.

The theme of the parade this year is “DENY, DENY, LIE, LIE!” The parade’s Grand Marshall is Texas Senator Ted Cruz in a sombrero dragging a rolling suitcase. He’ll be followed by the QAnon Marching Band singing the Village People’s “Macho Man.” Color commentary will be provided by former Fox News commentator Lou Dobbs. Security will be provided by the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers who will be standing back and standing by.

The parade will lead off with Donald Trump Jr. driving a Trump 2024 Campaign Bus. Anyone voicing opposition to his dad’s claims of voter fraud will be promptly thrown under the bus. Next up is the Georgia Republican Election Officials Float waving 11,780 Biden votes they’ve miraculously found for Trump. This will be followed by a float with a Scale Model of Mount Rushmore with Trump’s Face Added, an Exhibition of Displaced Confederate Statues, and a Shipping Container brimming with Stolen Podiums, Flags, Computers, Important Papers, and Cell Phones from the January 6 Capitol Insurrection. All of these and some Spin Art attached to a Non-Fungible Token (NFT) on the Mobile Ethereum Mining Float will be auctioned by Christie’s to help fund next year’s event (Cryptocurrency only).

Visit http://aprilfoolsdayparade.com for more details.

RIP Dino D’Annibale (1966–2021)

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Filed under: The Big One

It is with profound sadness that I say goodbye to my dear friend Dino who unexpectedly left us last week. Words cannot express the deep sorrow and tragic loss I feel.

Dino was a true friend, compatriot and co-conspirator. He was a man of many talents with a brilliant, creative, and searingly funny imagination.

A star just went out in my universe.


A Look at the Probable Genesis of QAnon

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Prank News, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

When media literacy and critical thinking are absent, the world becomes a much more dangerous place. Check out this very illuminating Buzzfeed link as well (in the 2nd paragraph below).


QAnon: the Italian artists who may have inspired America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory, by Eddy Frankel, The Art Newspaper, January 19, 2021

An anonymous left-wing art group known in the 1990s as Luther Blissett are wondering what they have unwittingly helped create

Q, the 1999 novel by the anonymous Italian art collective Luther Blissett, has notable similarities with the workings of QAnon

As the US Capitol was overwhelmed by Donald Trump supporters in early January, one figure stood out: with his painted face, bare chest, fur hat and American flag-draped spear, Jake Angeli became one of the most photographed rioters of the day. He is also known as the “QAnon Shaman” and has been seen waving a “Q sent me” placard in other protests.

QAnon is America’s most dangerous conspiracy theory, and if you pull hard enough on its threads, the whole tangled mess lands, somehow, at the feet of a group of Italian artists. It might sound like a conspiracy within a conspiracy, but, as Buzzfeed first reported in 2018, chances are that QAnon, at the start at least, took inspiration from an amorphous organisation of leftist artists who, for most of the mid-1990s, called themselves Luther Blissett after the 1980s English footballer.

They used the Watford and England striker’s name as a nom de plume, perpetrating countless media hoaxes, pranks and art interventions. They started raves on trams that turned into riots, they released albums, wrote books and manifestos, they mocked, questioned and undermined the mainstream, and they grew and grew until hundreds of people around the world were calling themselves Luther Blissett.

In the process, with their media-jamming hoaxes, they helped lay the groundwork for QAnon, a conspiracy theory about a secret satanic cabal of child abusers which controls the world. During the 2016 presidential elections, it famously gave rise to the rumour that Hillary Clinton ran a paedophile ring in a pizza parlour, Comet Ping Pong. More recently, QAnon has become a mainstay of far-right protests and riots, including the US Capitol insurrection. (more…)

Re-framing Russian Farming

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

Russian technology has come a long way…


RUSSIAN CYBERPUNK FARM

“They say that Russia is a technically backward country, there are no roads, robotics do not develop, rockets do not fly, and mail goes too long. It’s a bullshit.”

Rudy Giuliani Gets Caught with his Hand in the Cookie Jar

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Filed under: Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Spin, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

A scene in Sacha Baron Cohen’s news movie “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” exposes Rudy Giuliani, ex-Mayor of New York and Donald Trump’s personal attorney, in a compromising position. He makes a play for a sexy young journalist who is interviewing him and gets caught on film appearing to put his hand down his pants. Rudy says he was just tucking in his shirt.

You decide. Watch the footage of the scene here:

And here’s Sacha Baron Cohen’s response in character as Borat defending Rudy.

Read more at The Guardian: Rudy Giuliani faces questions after compromising scene in new Borat film

James “The Amazing” Randi, RIP

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Filed under: Illusion and Magic, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, Urban Legends

The world of social activism has lost another warrior.

I had the pleasure of meeting James Randi, a magician and great debunker of fake psychics and other charlatans, in 1986 when we both appeared on The Afternoon Show, a San Francisco TV talk show on KPIX. We both performed magic tricks. He removed the male host’s watch from his wrist. I removed the female host’s panties. (Having prepared ahead of time to appear on the show along with him, I had hidden a pair of female panties in my pocket and pulled them out to top Randi’s magic trick.) Riotous laughter ensued.

He later was the narrator of an Arts & Entertainment documentary called Scams, Schemes and Scoundrels which covered numerous dead scoundrels and me. You can watch the clip here.

Read his Obit in The New York Times

The Writing’s on the Wall

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Filed under: Creative Activism, First Amendment Issues, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation

Read a Trump lie on air at Radio Free Brooklyn and help promote voter registration.


Wall of Lies

A public art project displaying more than 20,000 Trump lies with voter registration drive

October 3rd – October 4th noon to 7pm
at Pine Box Rock Shop, 12 Grattan Street, Bushwick

Independent community radio station Radio Free Brooklyn (RFB) announces “Wall of Lies,” a groundbreaking visual art project one month before the presidential election of 2020. The project demonstrates the unprecedented lack of honesty from our current Commander-in-Chief.

Wall of Lies is a 50-foot by 10-foot outdoor mural with the 20,000+ lies told by Donald Trump (so far) while in office, documented and fact-checked by The Washington Post. Wall of Lies will be on public view on Grattan St from noon Saturday Oct 3rd until 7p Sunday October 4th.

“The countdown to Election Day is underway and Americans are already beginning to vote across the nation, in this time where misinformation is rampant, we feel it’s vital to use our voice to call out these untruths in a visually-provoking way,” says RFB Executive Director Tom Tenney.

The socially-distanced live event accompanying the mural includes a voter registration drive, and a live Radio Free Brooklyn broadcast on Sunday from 3-6 pm, Radio Free Brooklyn will be inviting members of the public to read some of Trump’s most egregious lies on the air.

“The original idea of the project was for a radio marathon, 24/7 on-air reading of all of Trumps’ lies on Radio Free Brooklyn for a full week before the election,” said Tenney, who has been in touch with The Washington Post and granted access to its database of Trump’s false and misleading statements. “However, once the pandemic hit and our operations moved to remote locations, the project was shelved. It was artist Phil Buehler who suggested reviving it as a visual art project.”

“It was just too good an idea not to happen somehow,” Buehler added, “since I’ve been making large-scale panoramic photographs of political events, a gigantic mural of all the lies seemed the perfect match to Tom’s original idea. Seen from a distance, it looks like chaos – perhaps an apt metaphor for this presidency, but when you step closer, you can read the individual lies, which are in chronological order color-coded by categories like coronavirus, Russia, immigration, the environment and jobs. Then when you step back, you can recognize patterns in Trump’s lying.”

The final piece of the project came together when Heather Rush, the owner of Pine Box Rock Shop, coordinated with grassroots voting activists Rep Your Block to set up voter registration next to the mural.

Read more in the Bushwick Daily: “Wall of Lies” Mural in Bushwick Will Display Over 20,000 Donald Trump Lies.

Always Check Your Sources Before You Get Outraged

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

“Ghostwriter” global disinformation campaign takes aim at NATO


Hackers post fake stories on real news sites ‘to discredit Nato’, BBC News, July 30, 2020

Hackers have broken into real news websites and posted fake stories stirring up anti-Nato sentiment, a cyber-security firm has warned.

The disinformation campaign, nicknamed “ghostwriter”, has been ongoing since 2017, according to FireEye researchers.

It is designed to “chip away” at support for Nato in Lithuania, Latvia, and Poland, they said.

While the false stories are “aligned with Russian security interests”, it is not known who is behind the attack.

The disinformation campaign uses “falsified news articles, quotes, correspondence and other documents designed to appear as coming from military officials and political figures in the target countries,” FireEye said.

In some cases, false news stories were posted on real news websites without permission.

The attackers apparently gained access to the CMS of the target website and replaced old articles with their own content, or posted entirely new false articles.

They would try to spread the fake stories on social media before they were taken down.

In one example from last year, a Lithuanian news site published a fake article claiming that German soldiers had desecrated a Jewish cemetery.

In another, a fake message was posted to the Polish War Studies Academy website, claiming to be from the organisation’s commander. It called for troops to fight against “the American occupation”. Read the rest of the story here.

Even Reality Requires Scrutiny

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Filed under: Illusion and Magic, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Paris’s Fake Buildings (And The Story Behind Them), by The Tim Traveller

Throwing Money Around Can Lead to Jail Time

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters

Bank Robber Prank yields fun for some and felony charge for others. Pretending to rob a bank is a YouTube prank “genre”. These guys had fun…

Bank Robber Prank, September 20, 2019 (Over 10M views on YouTube)

These guys, not so much. Stokes twins BANK ROBBER PRANK (gone wrong), March 30, 2020

And, then…

Twin YouTube Stars Alan and Alex Stokes Charged with Felonies After Staging Bank Robbery Pranks, by Ashley Boucher, People, August 5, 2020

Twin YouTubers have been charged with felony counts after they pretended to be bank robbers for prank videos filmed in California last year.

Alan and Alex Stokes, 23, are each facing a felony count of false imprisonment effected by violence, menace, fraud, or deceit and one misdemeanor count of falsely reporting an emergency, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced in a press release Wednesday.

The twins are accused of dressing in all black and wearing ski masks while carrying around duffel bags of cash last October.

According to the DA’s office, Alan and Alex ordered an Uber driver while posing as bank robbers on October 15, beginning the caper around 2:30 p.m. The driver refused to drive them, and a bystander believed they were trying to carjack the Uber driver.

When police arrived, they ordered the Uber driver out of the car at gunpoint, releasing him when they realized he was not involved. Read the whole story here.

Essential TikTok: Dead Fish Dating Photo Ratings

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

Would there be life without TikTok?


The Men of Fish Tinder Are Still the Internet’s Favorite Punching Bag, by Logan Mahan, InsideHook, July 22, 2020

If there’s a photo of you proudly hoisting up a dead fish on the internet, beware

The TikToks utilize the video-sharing app’s green-screen effect that allows users to upload screenshots and photos as a background, along with a distorted voice filter (a popular format used for “rating” anything on TikTok).

While the fish Tinder TikToks are becoming more popular now, the trend initially started back in May, when 29-year-old Cala Murry posted the first fish ranking video to the app. She has since spawned an entire subgenre of imitators. Watch Cala Murry’s Tinder Fish Rating here.

Read the whole article here.