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

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.

A Novel Approach to Money Laundering

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Literary Hoaxes, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

What do you get when a fake author using a stolen identity publishes a gibberish-ridden novel on demand and then buys scads of them at high prices with dirty money? Clean money. h/t BoingBoing


Money Laundering Via Author Impersonation on Amazon?
Krebs on Security
February 20, 2018

Patrick Reames had no idea why Amazon.com sent him a 1099 form saying he’d made almost $24,000 selling books via Createspace, the company’s on-demand publishing arm. That is, until he searched the site for his name and discovered someone has been using it to peddle a $555 book that’s full of nothing but gibberish.

Reames is a credited author on Amazon by way of several commodity industry books, although none of them made anywhere near the amount Amazon is reporting to the Internal Revenue Service. Nor does he have a personal account with Createspace.

But that didn’t stop someone from publishing a “novel” under his name. That word is in quotations because the publication appears to be little more than computer-generated text, almost like the gibberish one might find in a spam email.

“Based on what I could see from the ‘sneak peak’ function, the book was nothing more than a computer generated ‘story’ with no structure, chapters or paragraphs — only lines of text with a carriage return after each sentence,” Reames said in an interview with KrebsOnSecurity.

The impersonator priced the book at $555 and it was posted to multiple Amazon sites in different countries. The book — which as been removed from most Amazon country pages as of a few days ago – is titled “Lower Days Ahead,” and was published on Oct 7, 2017.

Reames said he suspects someone has been buying the book using stolen credit and/or debit cards, and pocketing the 60 percent that Amazon gives to authors. At $555 a pop, it would only take approximately 70 sales over three months to rack up the earnings that Amazon said he made. (more…)

Disinformation at the Speed of Light

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Propaganda and Disinformation, You Decide

At a time of unspeakable tragedy, Russian propagandists and right wing conspiracy theorists work together to neutralize a rational, well-spoken high school student pleading for safe schools.


How the Florida school shooting conspiracies sprouted and spread
by Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore
CNN
February 22, 2018

(CNN)Conspiracy theories after mass shootings follow a familiar thread and the Florida school shooting is no exception.

They originate in the dark corners of the internet — often from the 4chan “politically incorrect” board (abbreviated as /pol/) — and migrate onto social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook from conservative pages, alt-right personalities, nationalist blogs and far-right pundits.

What drives hoaxes and conspiracy theorists is unclear. But their faith in the conspiracies they spread seems to be unwavering.

Less than an hour after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, Twitter accounts were claiming that eyewitnesses were “crisis actors.” The term refers to people who are paid to play disaster victims in emergency drills. More recently, though, the phrase has been co-opted by conspiracy theorists who claim mass shootings are events staged to achieve a political goal.

A CNN investigation into 4chan’s /pol/ archive counted at least 121 times that school shooting survivor David Hogg was mentioned on the board. Read the rest of this article here.

What the World Needs Now… Crying Therapy

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Stress reduction via The Handsome Man…


Japanese women pay handsome man to make them cry, then dry their tears
BoingBoing
January 23, 2018

Here’s a short National Geographic video about a crying therapy service. Women pay a “handsome man” to make them cry, then gently wipe their tears away. The practiced is said to relieve stress.

Entrepreneur Hiroki Terai … is the founder of a group crying service that encourages people to cry together while a "handsome weeping boy" wipes their tears away. Known as rui-katsu or ‘tear-seeking,' the practice is especially popular with women and is said to relieve stress levels. In Crying with the Handsome Man, filmmaker Darryl Thoms explores this unusual practice and why its founder believes it is bringing people together.

Real Magician’s Never Reveal Their Tricks?

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Pranksters

Dead pan parody of a magician’s nemesis revealing all of the tricks. h/t Neatorama


It’s enough to make you pull your hare out! Magician’s thrilling secrets are revealed by his stony-faced assistant
by Joe Sheppard
Daily Mail
October 13, 2017

As traits go, honesty is not really the best policy for a magician’s assistant.

This amusing video shows a prankster revealing all his budding sorcerer friend’s best tricks.

The series of clips filmed by Chinese internet star A Gan shows him attempting a few illusions which are intended to show floating hands, bending bottles and levitating taps.

But each time he tries, the mood is instantly broken by his purple-haired pal, who steps in to reveal the hoax. Read the whole article here.

Short video:

Longer video:

Deepfake: AI-Assisted Porn

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Prank News, The Future of Pranks

Hey! What’s my face doing on a porn star’s body?


Everything You Need To Know About The Face-Swap Technology That’s Sweeping The Internet (And Getting Banned Everywhere)
Digg
February 8, 2018

Gal Gadot’s face on someone else’s body. Image: Screenshot from SendVids

In the past couple of months, “deepfake” has gone from a nonsense word to a widely-used synonym for videos in which one person’s face is digitally grafted onto another person’s body. The most popular - and troubling - type of deepfake is artificially produced porn appearing to star famous actresses like Gal Gadot, Daisy Ridley and Scarlett Johansson. Sites like Reddit and Pornhub have made moves to ban pornographic deepfakes in recent days, but it’s never been easier for anyone with an internet connection to make disturbingly real-looking porn by mapping almost anyone’s face over those of porn performers. Here’s what you need to know.

‘Deepfake’ Celebrity Porn First Emerged In December

In an only somewhat hyperbolically titled article called “AI-Assisted Fake Porn Is Here and We’re All Fucked,” Motherboard’s Samantha Cole interviewed the first Redditor to post convincing face-swapped videos, who called himself “deepfakes.” (“Deepfake” which has since become a term used the doctored videos produced by the technology.) “Deepfakes” explained how he created a porn video appearing to star Gal Gadot. Read the rest here.

Forget About Getting a Table Here

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, How to Pull Off a Prank, Instructionals, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

Update January 25, 2018: Vice Video: How to Become TripAdvisor’s #1 Fake Restaurant. Thanks Frank.

The London restaurant so exclusive that no one could ever get a reservation. H/t Bob O’Keefe.

Bonus: Oobah Butler’s Vice play book on how he pulled it off.


“The Shed at Dulwich” was London’s top-rated restaurant. Just one problem: It didn’t exist.
By Eli Rosenberg
The Washington Post
December 8, 2017

It was a unique restaurant in London and certainly the hardest to get into. And it beat out thousands of upscale restaurants in the city to earn the top ranking on the popular review site TripAdvisor for a time, drawing a flood of interest.

There was just one small problem: It didn’t exist.

The restaurant was just a listing created this year by a freelance writer, Oobah Butler, who used his home — a shed in the Dulwich area in South London — as the inspiration for a high-concept new restaurant that he posted on TripAdvisor: “The Shed at Dulwich.”

With hardly more than some fake reviews — “Best shed based experience in London!” a particularly cheeky one read — and a website, it had gamed the site’s ratings in London, a highly sought after designation that could bring a surge of business to any restaurant, let alone one in major global capital.

The story has by now traveled around the globe and back, after Butler wrote a piece that exposed the ruse on Vice. It has been hailed as an incredible feat. But in an era increasingly influenced by disinformation online, it also has served as another reminder of the ease with which pranksters and other dishonest actors are able to manipulate online platforms to sometimes unthinkable results. Read more.