Fraud and Deception

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No Surprise, But U.S. Foreign Policy’s Gone Rogue

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Filed under: Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Senator Lindsey Graham was caught by Russian pranksters a few months ago saying the exact opposite of what he just said publicly against Turkey’s aggressions in Syria yesterday. How much more convoluted can our foreign policy get?


Lindsey Graham dishes on Trump in hoax calls with Russians
By Natasha Bertrand
Politico
10/10/2019

Graham thought he was speaking with Turkey’s minister of defense. Instead, it was a pair of Russian pranksters.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham has in the last year become something of a congressional point man for President Donald Trump’s negotiations with Turkey, leading discussions on everything from Ankara’s purchase of a Russian missile system over the summer to their more recent incursion into northern Syria.

So when he received a call from a man he thought was Turkey’s minister of defense earlier in August, it didn’t strike him as unusual. “Thank you so much for calling me, Mr. Minister,” Graham said. “I want to make this a win-win, if we can.”

But it wasn’t the Turkish defense minister at all. Instead, it was Alexey Stolyarov and Vladimir Kuznetsov, Russian pranksters with suspected ties to the country’s intelligence services who go by “Lexus and Vovan.” The duo have become notorious in recent years for their cold calls to unwitting, high-profile Western politicians, including Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, leading some to suspect that they’ve had help from the Kremlin, according to The Guardian. (A Schiff spokesman said at the time that the House Intelligence Committee “informed appropriate law enforcement and security personnel of the conversation.”)

Hear a snippet of the call:

Read the whole story here.

To Trump You’re a Moving Target

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

Want to be “micro-targeted” by the Trump campaign? Just make a donation and they’ll handle the rest.


Trump campaign says it can track your phone
by Matt Binder
Mashable
September 26, 2019

President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign website recently added language that gives it permission to use “beacons” to track the location of mobile devices.

And if you don’t like it? It’s now harder to sue the Trump campaign for privacy violations.

The location tracking addendum was added to the campaign’s privacy policy under the “Information You Choose to Provide to Us” section. The change was first noticed in July by Campaign Monitor, an online tool that tracks significant changes made to 2020 presidential campaign websites.

“We may also collect other information based on your location and your Device’s proximity to ‘beacons’ and other similar proximity systems, including, for example, the strength of the signal between the beacon and your Device and the duration that your Device is near the beacon,” reads the portion added to the Trump campaign’s website privacy policy.

Rest the whole article here.

New York Subway Poster Promotes the Real Rudy Giuliani

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Fraud and Deception, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

How the mighty have fallen. h/t Nancy


NYC subway riders greeted by ad hyping ‘crazy’ Rudy Giuliani’s law offices: ‘Will work when drunk!’
by Michael Elsen-Roonet and Chris Sommerfeldt
New York Daily News
October 1, 2019

Rudy Giuliani is off the rails, according to a cheeky ad that popped up in the New York City subway Tuesday.

The satirical ad, which was spotted on at least one A train Tuesday afternoon, touts the ex-New York mayor-turned-Trump attorney’s “crazy” legal services, including “back-channel deals” and “cable news appearances.”

The blue-banner ad also features a mug of Giuliani with his tongue partially out of his mouth, along with a phone number and a link to “CrazyRudyLaw.com.”

“At least I’m assuming its fake! lol,” a straphanger who discovered the “Crazy Rudy” ad told the Daily News. Read the whole article here.

Fake News, Fake Fans: We’re All Faked Out

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

David Strom reports on his Web Informant blog about two interesting studies: one from researchers at Oxford about how ubiquitous global disinformation and social media manipulation has become, and the other about how many of politicians’ Twitter followers are totally fake. Donald Trump wins with 61%!


The worldwide spread of government-sponsored social media misinformation
by David Strom
Web Informant
September 27, 2019

For the past three years, researchers at Oxford University have been tracking the rise of government and political party operatives who have been using various social media tools as propaganda devices. Their goal is to shape and undermine trust with public opinion and automate dissent suppression. This year’s report is chilling and I urge you to read it yourself and see what you think. It shows how social media has infected the world’s democracies on an unprecedented scale.

One thing the Oxford researchers didn’t examine is how the practice of using fake followers of major political figures has spread. This analysis was done by SparkToro. As you can see in the above graphic, Donald Trump and Jerry Brown have half or more of their Twitter followers by bots and other automated programs. There are other political figures elsewhere that have high fake proportions too. Read the full blog post here.

Right-Wing Website Dosed With Own Medicine

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

The op-ed site Quillette has risen to prominence in the Trump-era conservative firmament by condemning progressive orthodoxies around race and gender, providing a platform for accused sexual predators, defending “Google Memo” author James “Fired4Truth” Damore, and promoting the “Sokal Squared” hoax, an effort to discredit academic disciplines by categorizing them as “grievance studies.”

This week, the site took a blow to its own credibility when left-aligned mischief-maker “Archie Carter” submitted a critique of the Democratic Socialists of America littered with lies, cliches, and errata. The piece was promptly published and promptly retracted by Quillette, leaving leftist publications Alternet and Jacobin (along with broad swaths of Twitter) to gloat over the fallout.

Will Sommer, a journalist/provocateur focused on far-right movements, scored an interview with the hoaxer.


Quillette Duped by Left-Wing Hoaxer Posing as Communist Construction Worker
by Will Sommer
The Daily Beast
August 9, 2019

Construction worker and avowed Leninist Archie Carter has plenty of gripes with the Democratic Socialists of America, the left-wing group that’s enjoyed a new wave of popularity during the Trump era.

In an essay published Thursday on the conservative op-ed website Quillette, Carter declared that DSA had been overrun with overeducated, oversensitive college graduates, blinding itself to the true needs of the working class.

“DSA is doomed,” Carter wrote.

Carter’s piece seemed like exactly the kind of argument that’s turned Quillette, a self-described “platform for free thought,” into a hotbed for the right-wing online “Intellectual Dark Web” movement. Carter had impeccable blue-collar bona fides, with his Quillette bio describing him as a committed union member who’s always “watching the Mets blow a lead.”

But there’s one problem with Carter’s story: He doesn’t exist.

DSA members started picking holes in Carter’s story almost as soon it went live on Quillette. New York City’s DSA local couldn’t find any record of a member, current or former, named Archie Carter. And while Carter claimed to have participated in sit-in protests as part of his DSA work, the group hadn’t organized sit-ins in New York in years.

By Thursday evening, Quillette had retracted Carter’s essay, saying Carter had failed to “supply answers to our follow-up questions in timely fashion.” Read more.


Citroën’s WWII Subterfuge Remembered

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, Urban Legends, You Decide

True or not, this is an inspiring bit of sabotage.


Citroën Sabotaged Wartime Nazi Truck Production in a Simple and Brilliant Way
by Jason Torchinsky
Jalopnik.com
July 24, 2019

Citroen

In case you forgot to change the batteries in your calendar, you may not be aware that this year is the 100th anniversary of Citroën. We’ve been shooting a Jason Drives special mini-series for this centenary, and while doing some research I happened to stumble upon a fascinating bit of wartime Citroën lore. It involves screwing with Nazis in a genuinely clever and subtle way that nevertheless had big repercussions. I’ll explain.

So, when France was occupied by the Germans in 1940, major French factories like Citroën were forced to produce equipment for the Nazis. Citroën president Pierre-Jules Boulanger knew he couldn’t just refuse to produce anything, but he also knew there’s no way in hell he’s going to just roll over and build trucks for a bunch of filthy Nazis. Pierre had a plan.

John Reynolds’ book Citroën 2CV describes Boulanger’s sabotage efforts. Of course, he instructed workers to set a nice, leisurely pace when building trucks (likely Citroën T45 trucks) for the Wermacht, but that’s fairly obvious. What was brilliant was Boulanger’s idea to move the little notch on the trucks’ oil dipsticks that indicated the proper level of oil down just a bit lower.

By moving the notch down, the trucks would not have enough oil, but German mechanics would have no idea, because, hey, the little notch on the dipstick says its just fine. Then, after the truck has been used for a while and is out deployed somewhere crucial, whammo, the engine seizes up, and you’ve got a lot of angry, stranded, vulnerable Nazis, balling up their little fists and redly barking curses in German.

It’s such a fantastic act of sabotage: it’s extremely cheap to implement, it’s subtle, there’s no way to see something amiss is happening as the trucks are being built, and it delivers its blow away from the site of the sabotage and when it will cause the most inconvenience and trouble.

I suppose it could be apocryphal, but this is one of those cases where I’m going to choose to believe.

That’s some mighty good sabotaging, Pierre.

Political Prank Topples the Austrian Government. Joey Skaggs Swears He Didn’t Do It! [English and German]

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Joey Skaggs visited Vienna, Austria, in June. Coincidentally, a surreptitiously filmed video had just been released showing the far-right Freedom Party’s leader and then vice chancellor of the Austrian government, Heinz-Christian Strache, scheming to overthrow the rest of the government.

In the video, Strache, thinking he’s talking to the niece of a wealthy Russian oligarch with connections in high places, offers her a controlling share in a national newspaper and sweetheart construction contracts in return for hefty (and illegal) campaign donations. Turns out she wasn’t who she said she was and the video shows him to be an ambitious, scheming fool.

The video caused a loss of confidence in the entire Austrian government and resulted in its total collapse. In essence, the Austrian government had just been toppled by a prank. What timing. Joey swears he had nothing to do with this!

Joey’s presentation at FH-Wien University in Vienna prompted interviews with FM4, Austria’s national radio network, and NJOY 91.3, the FH-Wien University radio station. It was a great opportunity for him to talk about the power of the political prank, President Trump’s fixation with “fake news”, and the unsettling potential of deepfakes, which he had predicted in a 1986 interview in Pranks! (RE/Search No. 11). Check out page 41.

The FM4 radio interview with Felix Diewald is no longer available, however its web page (in German) is terrific.

The NJOY 91.3 radio interview with Michel Mehle is fun and edifying. It starts out in German and switches to English at 2:11.

In Review: April Fools’ Day 2019 Branding, Marketing, and Media Stunts

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Filed under: All About Pranks, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Parody, Practical Jokes and Mischief, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Satire, Sociology and Psychology of Pranks, Spin, The World of the Prank

Before April Fools’ Day 2019 even began, the tech giant Microsoft announced that it would not be indulging in any branded foolishness this year. And that sort of set the tone for the day.

From the rise of the internet and social media through the election of Donald Trump, distinguishing truth from fiction in the online landscape has become less about comedy and more about horror. Even the cutest and cleverest April Fools’ publicity stunts are not as well received as they may have been in the past. The overall online mood is darker, more skittish, and more reflective. Still, there’s still some levity to be found in the chaos and desperation.

A few editorials addressed the cynicism and fatigue around April Fools’ Day from high-level perspectives.

Of the branded pranks that did go down, the most interesting had satirical or meta-comedic elements.

Others were just plain, dumb, silly, marginally self-aware fun. Here are the best of the rest:

And there was even some good news!

As with any holiday, the best way to spend April Fools’ Day is probably not on the internet, but engaged in revelry and camaraderie IRL, fighting the forces of oppression and no-fun-ness in the company of loved ones and loved ones you haven’t met yet. So naturally the best news of the day was the annual April Fools’ Day Parade – see the highlights [HERE].

Confessions of a Rock and Roll Poser

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Last autumn, Jered “Threatin” Eames staged the most alienating, least explicable rock tour stunt since the Sex Pistols hit the deep south. He recently broke his silence.


“The Great Heavy Metal Hoax”
by David Kushner
Rolling Stone
December 14, 2018

In November, managers of rock clubs across the United Kingdom began sharing the same weird tale. A pop-metal performer, Threatin, had rented their clubs for his 10-city European tour. Club owners had never heard of the act when a booking agent approached them promising packed houses. Threatin had fervent followers, effusive likes, rows of adoring comments under his YouTube concert videos, which showed him windmilling before a sea of fans. Websites for the record label, managers and a public-relations company who represented Threatin added to his legitimacy. Threatin’s Facebook page teemed with hundreds of fans who had RSVP’d for his European jaunt, which was supporting his album, Breaking the World.

But despite all the hype, almost no one came to the shows. It was just Threatin and his three-piece band onstage, and his wife, Kelsey, filming him from the empty floor. And yet Threatin didn’t seem to care — he just ripped through a set as if there was a full house. When confronted by confused club owners, Threatin just shrugged, blaming the lack of audience on bad promotion. “It was clear that something weird was happening,” says Jonathan “Minty” Minto, who was bartending the night Threatin played at the Exchange, a Bristol club, “but we didn’t realize how weird.” Intrigued, Minto and his friends started poking around Threatin’s Facebook page, only to find that most of the fans lived in Brazil. “The more we clicked,” says Minto, “the more apparent it became that every single attendee was bogus.”

It all turned out to be fake: The websites, the record label, the PR company, the management company, all traced back to the same GoDaddy account. The throngs of fans in Threatin’s concert videos were stock footage. The promised RSVPs never appeared. When word spread of Threatin’s apparent deception, club owners were perplexed: Why would someone go to such lengths just to play to empty rooms? Read more.

The Political Prank That Ensnared the Wall Street Journal

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Creative Activism, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, The World of the Prank

Laura Loomer is a far-right media provocateur known for shambolic publicity stunts. Her toxic racial rhetoric has resulted in her removal from a number of social media platforms, and she hasn’t taken it well. Anxious to stay in the public eye, she was recently tricked into a bizarre caper that oddly also sucked in the Wall Street Journal. This comedy of errors encapsulates much of what is so ridiculous about the current media landscape. See if you can keep up.


“Did the Wall Street Journal Fall for a Prank Directed at Laura Loomer?”
by Jared Holt
Right Wing Watch
January 15, 2019

EXCERPT FROM THE FULL ARTICLE: “She didn’t verify who I am once. Never did she make an attempt,” Gillen said. “Everything I gave her as ‘info,’ she took as gospel. She hasn’t batted an eye or questioned anything that I said, ever.”

In a recorded phone call Bernard shared with us, Loomer expressed her willingness to leverage all means possible to retaliate against Twitter.

“I’m down with anything, honestly. So if whistle-blowers like yourself just want to come to me—I mean, I’m looking to escalate this as much as I can. I don’t even care. The gloves are off right now. [Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey] is banning people simply because they’re conservative. … He is taking money from all these Muslims and implementing Sharia law,” Loomer told Gillen during a phone call.

Bernard told Right Wing Watch that the goal of their stunt was to see if Loomer would go on-air at Alex Jones’ Infowars and repeat what they had told her, after which they planned to reveal the details of their joke in order to make a point about what they said were Loomer’s and Infowars’ non-existent journalistic standards and confirmation bias.

But something else happened.

“Don’t worry it will be big,” Loomer wrote to the pranksters in a December text message. “I have a big network of journalists I know.”

Read the whole story here.


Reality: Now Faker Than Ever

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Media Literacy, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin

In a brilliant and dizzying end-of-year rant, Max Read takes stock of how much of our digital world is constructed from weapons-grade fraud, deception, nonsense, hokum, and miscellaneous bullshit.


“How Much of the Internet is Fake? Turns Out, a Lot of It, Actually”
by Max Read
New York Intelligencer
December 26, 2018

How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot. For a period of time in 2013, the Times reported this year, a full half of YouTube traffic was “bots masquerading as people,” a portion so high that employees feared an inflection point after which YouTube’s systems for detecting fraudulent traffic would begin to regard bot traffic as real and human traffic as fake. They called this hypothetical event “the Inversion.”

In the future, when I look back from the high-tech gamer jail in which President PewDiePie will have imprisoned me, I will remember 2018 as the year the internet passed the Inversion, not in some strict numerical sense, since bots already outnumber humans online more years than not, but in the perceptual sense. The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect: Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real. The “fakeness” of the post-Inversion internet is less a calculable falsehood and more a particular quality of experience — the uncanny sense that what you encounter online is not “real” but is also undeniably not “fake,” and indeed may be both at once, or in succession, as you turn it over in your head. Read more.

Deep Fakes: Down the Horrifying Rabbit Hole

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Prank News, Pranksters, Propaganda and Disinformation, The Future of Pranks

On the topic of our tenuous collective relationship with the concept formerly known as “truth,” this examination of “deep fakes,” high-tech simulated video recordings of people you recognize doing things they’ve never actually done, may be the most frightening and portentous emerging story of 2018. And that’s saying a mouthful.


“You thought fake news was bad? Deep fakes are where truth goes to die”
by Oscar Schwartz
November 12, 2018
The Guardian

Fake videos can now be created using a machine learning technique called a “generative adversarial network”, or a GAN. A graduate student, Ian Goodfellow, invented GANs in 2014 as a way to algorithmically generate new types of data out of existing data sets. For instance, a GAN can look at thousands of photos of Barack Obama, and then produce a new photo that approximates those photos without being an exact copy of any one of them, as if it has come up with an entirely new portrait of the former president not yet taken. GANs might also be used to generate new audio from existing audio, or new text from existing text – it is a multi-use technology.

The use of this machine learning technique was mostly limited to the AI research community until late 2017, when a Reddit user who went by the moniker “Deepfakes” – a portmanteau of “deep learning” and “fake” – started posting digitally altered pornographic videos. He was building GANs using TensorFlow, Google’s free open source machine learning software, to superimpose celebrities’ faces on the bodies of women in pornographic movies.

A number of media outlets reported on the porn videos, which became known as “deep fakes”. In response, Reddit banned them for violating the site’s content policy against involuntary pornography. By this stage, however, the creator of the videos had released FakeApp, an easy-to-use platform for making forged media. The free software effectively democratized the power of GANs. Suddenly, anyone with access to the internet and pictures of a person’s face could generate their own deep fake. Read more.

The Best Defense Against a Bad Guy With a Bot

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Media Literacy, Political Challenges, Propaganda and Disinformation, The World of the Prank

During the 2016 US election cycle, artificial intelligence was wildly successful at spreading lies and propaganda. These researchers suggest weaponizing better bots and aiming them in the opposite direction.


“Bots spread a lot of fakery during the 2016 election. But they can also debunk it.”
by Daniel Funke
November 20, 2018
Poynter

Aside from their role in amplifying the reach of misinformation, bots also play a critical role in getting it off the ground in the first place. According to the study, bots were likely to amplify false tweets right after they were posted, before they went viral. Then users shared them because it looked like a lot of people already had.

“People tend to put greater trust in messages that appear to originate from many people,” said co-author Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of South Florida, in the press release. “Bots prey upon this trust by making messages seem so popular that real people are tricked into spreading their messages for them.”

The study suggests Twitter curb the number of automated accounts on social media to cut down on the amplification of misinformation. The company has made some progress toward this end, suspending more than 70 million accounts in May and June alone. More recently, the company took down a bot network that pushed pro-Saudi views about the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and started letting users report potential fake accounts.

Nonetheless, bots are still wrecking havoc on Twitter — and some aren’t used for spreading misinformation at all. So what should fact-checkers do to combat their role in spreading misinformation?

Tai Nalon has spent the better part of the past year trying to answer that question — and her answer is to beat the bots at their own game.

“I think artificial intelligence is the only way to tackle misinformation, and we have to build bots to tackle misinformation,” said the director of Aos Fatos, a Brazilian fact-checking project. “(Journalists) have to reach the people where they are reading the news. Now in Brazil, they are reading on social media and on WhatsApp. So why not be there and automate processes using the same tools the bad guys use?” Read 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…)

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.