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

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.

Here’s Truth in Advertising

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Filed under: Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Media Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Oscar nominated movie poster alteration in service of the truth… h/t Miss Cellania


If The Posters For This Year's Oscar-Nominated Movies Were Honest
by Caleb Reading
uproxx.com
January 24, 2018

This year's Oscar nominations are in, and there have been some surprises, like a Wolverine sequel becoming the first superhero movie to garner a screenplay nomination. It seems The Academy seeks to reshape its image, and you know what would really reshape everyone's attitude toward this business of show? If movie posters were brutally, hilariously honest.

http://www.theshiznit.co.uk/feature/if-2018s-oscar-nominated-movie-posters-told-the-truth.php

As we have in previous years, we've collected our favorite honest posters for the films with at least one nomination in any category for the 90th Academy Awards (full nominees list here). Many of these come courtesy of The Shiznit and this College Humor post, along with several other posts. Read more

honest-movie-posters-2018-The-Post_college-humor ... The Post poster made by College Humor. http://www.collegehumor.com/post/7054778/if-movies-had-honest-titles-january-2018-edition ... (more posters at the link)http://www.theshiznit.co.uk/feature/if-2018s-oscar-nominated-movie-posters-told-the-truth.php

Time Traveling with The Simpsons

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, The History of Pranks, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction, You Decide

The beloved, long-running animated satirical program’s eerie track record of anticipating the future. h/t Andrea!


Watch the video.

New Dirty Politics: Fake Internet Comments

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Political Pranks, Prank News, Propaganda and Disinformation

Fake internet comments may be the only thing worse than real internet comments.


“Fake Comments on Trump Administration Website are Trying to Take Down an Obama-era Rule”
By Greg Price
Newsweek
December 27, 2018

Critical fake comments, attributed to a real person, were reportedly posted against a controversial fiduciary rule to the Department of Labor's website, presumably to convince the department to do away with the rule altogether.

Altogether, 40 percent of people who responded to a survey conducted for The Wall Street Journal stated they did not write the negative comments against the rule first implemented under former President Barack Obama to protect investors and avoid conflicts of interest at brokerage firms and other financial institutions.

The survey was conducted by research firm Mercury Analytics for The Journal. It was sent to 345 people out of the 3,100 comments posted to the Labor Department's site about the fiduciary rule. Most of the 345 comments were critical of the rule, but of the 50 people to respond to the survey, 20 told The Journal they did not author the critical post.

The Angriest Man on the Internet?

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Filed under: Conspiracy Theories, Culture Jamming and Reality Hacking, Fact or Fiction?, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, The History of Pranks

As long as computers have been part of mainstream life, people have been mad at them. This history of one of the first viral videos tells the tale of how information spreads across the digital landscape. Interestingly… having nothing to do with its enormous popularity… it wasn’t at all what it was purported to be.


“The Strange History of One of the Internet’s First Viral Videos”
By Joe Veix
Wired
January 12, 2018

You’ve seen the video. Everyone on the internet has. A man sits in a cubicle and pounds his keyboard in frustration. A few seconds later, the Angry Man picks up the keyboard and swings it like a baseball bat at his screen-it's an old PC from the ’90s, with a big CRT monitor-whacking it off the desk. A frightened coworker's head pops up over the cubicle wall, just in time to watch the Angry Man get up and kick the monitor across the floor. Cut to black.

The clip began to circulate online, mostly via email, in 1997. Dubbed "badday.mpg," it's likely one of the first internet videos ever to go viral. Sometimes GIFs of it still float across Twitter and Facebook feeds. (Most memes barely have a shelf life of 20 minutes, let alone 20 years.)

Beyond its impressive resilience, it's also unexpectedly significant as the prime mover of viral videos. In one clip, you can find everything that's now standard in the genre, like a Lumière brothers film for the internet age: the surveillance footage aesthetic, the sub-30-second runtime, the angry freakout in a typically staid setting, the unhinged destruction of property.

The clip also serves up prime conspiracy fodder. Freeze and enhance: The computer is unplugged. The supposed Angry Man, on closer inspection, is smiling. Was one of the first viral videos-and perhaps the most popular viral video of all time-also one of the first internet hoaxes? Read more.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Debunked

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Filed under: Publicity Stunts, Urban Legends

Snopes sheds light on the origins of another beloved Christmas myth: “The story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer… was developed for commercial purposes by a Montgomery Ward copywriter at the specific request of his employer…”


Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Snopes.com

Was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer created to bring comfort to a girl whose mother was dying of cancer?

CLAIM
The character ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ was created by a father to bring comfort to his daughter as her mother was dying of cancer.

WHAT’S TRUE
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was created by a man whose wife was dying of cancer.

WHAT’S FALSE
The story of Rudolph was created by a father to bring comfort to his daughter as her mother lay dying of cancer.

ORIGIN
To most of us, the character of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, immortalized in song and a popular holiday television special, has always been an essential part of our Christmas folklore, but Rudolph is in fact a mid-twentieth century invention whose creation can be traced to a specific time and person

Read the whole story here.

The Long Overdue Trump Apology

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

From Liz Plank’s Twitter @feministabulous. Click through to watch this inspired video:
The president won’t apologize to women so I did it for him.

Tracing the Roots of Wishful Thinking

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Filed under: Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hype, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Spin, The History of Pranks

As the year-end recaps gather on the horizon, many will attempt to make sense of Donald Trump’s ascent to the Presidency. Kurt Andersen’s book Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire provides a fascinating road-map.

The Atlantic posted a long excerpt. This is from Delancey Place about the roots of our inbred susceptibility to advertising.


“Are Americans More Willing to Believe in Advertising?”
Delancey Place
December 4, 2017

From the earliest days, and continuing for decades and even centuries, promoters of the New World enticed colonizers with the promise of riches, causing the historian Daniel Boorstin to suggest that ‘American civilization [has] been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe in advertising’:

“Although [Sir Walter] Raleigh never visited North America himself, he believed that in addition to its gold deposits, his realm might somehow be the biblical Garden of Eden. … A large fraction of the first settlers dispatched by Raleigh became sick and died. He dispatched a second expedi­tion of gold-hunters. It also failed, and all those colonists died. But Sir Walter continued believing the dream of gold.

“In 1606 the new English king, James, despite Raleigh’s colonization di­sasters, gave a franchise to two new private enterprises, the Virginia Com­pany of London and the Virginia Company of Plymouth, to start colonies. The southern one, under the auspices of London, they named Jamestown after the monarch. Their royal charter was clear about the main mission: ‘to dig, mine, and search for all Manner of Mines of Gold … And to HAVE and enjoy the Gold.’ As Tocqueville wrote in his history two centuries later, ‘It was … gold-seekers who were sent to Virginia. No noble thought or conception above gain presided over the foundation of the new settlements.’ Two­-thirds of those first hundred gold-seekers promptly died. But the captain of the expedition returned to England claiming to have found ‘gold showing mountains.’ … In fact, Jamestown ore they dug and refined and shipped to England turned out to be iron pyrite, fool’s gold….” Read more.

Another James O’Keefe’s Failed Trolling Op

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Fact or Fiction?, Fraud and Deception, Hoaxes vs. Scams, Legal Issues, Media Literacy, Media Pranks, Political Pranks, Propaganda and Disinformation, Truth that's Stranger than Fiction

Score 1 for investigative journalism on James O’Keefe‘s botched attempt to discredit The Washington Post on behalf of a Senate candidate and alleged pedophile.


“A woman approached The Post with dramatic - and false - tale about Roy Moore. She appears to be part of undercover sting operation.”
By Shawn Boburg, Aaron C. Davis and Alice Crites
The Washington Post
November 27, 2017

A woman who falsely claimed to The Washington Post that Roy Moore, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in Alabama, impregnated her as a teenager appears to work with an organization that uses deceptive tactics to secretly record conversations in an effort to embarrass its targets.

In a series of interviews over two weeks, the woman shared a dramatic story about an alleged sexual relationship with Moore in 1992 that led to an abortion when she was 15. During the interviews, she repeatedly pressed Post reporters to give their opinions on the effects that her claims could have on Moore's candidacy if she went public.

The Post did not publish an article based on her unsubstantiated account. When Post reporters confronted her with inconsistencies in her story and an Internet posting that raised doubts about her motivations, she insisted that she was not working with any organization that targets journalists.

But on Monday morning, Post reporters saw her walking into the New York offices of Project Veritas, an organization that targets the mainstream news media and left-leaning groups. The organization sets up undercover "stings" that involve using false cover stories and covert video recordings meant to expose what the group says is media bias. Read more.

Well, Here’s a Novel Phone Prank… Threatening Pro-Trump Robocalls

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Filed under: Creative Activism, Political Pranks, Pranksters, Publicity Stunts, You Decide

Gizmodo investigates confusing robocalls warning people to stop criticizing President Trump. Some of the recipients are harsh Trump critics, some aren’t. Some known political provocateurs may or may not be involved, and no one really gets it.


“People Are Getting Robocalls About Their ‘Derogatory’ Trump Posts”
by Kashmir Hill
Gizmodo
November 29, 2017

Brett Vanderbrook was driving for Uber last week when he got a call from an unfamiliar number. He let it go to voicemail and when he listened to it later, he got a shock: It was a recorded message telling him to stop making "negative and derogatory posts about President Trump."

"It was kind of threatening. I was dumbfounded at first and then creeped out," Vanderbrook, who lives in Dallas, Texas, said in a phone interview. "Then I was angry and that's when I decided to share it."

Vanderbrook makes progressive political posts on Facebook, voicing support for gun control, LGBTQ rights, and immigrant rights. None of his public posts mention President Trump or come across as "derogatory."

Vanderbrook is not alone, though. Across the country, and even in Canada, people have reported on social media that they've received the same robocall. The earliest complaint dates back to July. The intensity of the calling campaign is hard to gauge; a search of complaints turned up 10 reports scattered across different platforms.

The reports, though, are all consistent. When the call goes to voicemail, as it did for Vanderbrook, the beginning of the recording gets cut off, but people describing the calls on Twitter, Facebook, and the telemarketer-reporting site ShouldIAnswer.com have said that the recording claims to come from "Citizens for Trump." Read more.