The sharp increase in popularity of social media networks (primarily Facebook) has created a predatory secondary market among online publishers seeking to profitably exploit the large reach of those networks and their huge customer bases by spreading fake news and outlandish rumors. Competition for social media’s large supply of willing eyeballs is fierce, and a number of frequent offenders regularly fabricate salacious and attention-grabbing tales simply to drive traffic (and revenue) to their sites.
Facebook has worked at limiting the reach of hoax-purveying sites in their customers’ news feeds, inhibiting (but not eradicating) the spread of fake news stories. Hoaxes and fake news are often little more than annoyances to unsuspecting readers; but sometimes circulating stories negatively affect businesses or localities by spreading false, disruptive claims that are widely believed.
So long as social media allows for the rapid spread of information, manipulative entities will seek to cash in on the rapid spread of misinformation. Perhaps the most egregious of the many nonsense peddlers on social media are fake news sites, so here we offer a guide to several of the most frequent (and unapologetic) hoax purveyors cluttering up newsfeeds everywhere.
No list of shameless misinformation would be complete without a mention of National Report (and its omnipresent former lead writer, Paul Horner), as the site is (or was) perhaps the most prominent example of its genre.
Among National Report‘s most widespread hoaxes were claims that notorious street artist Banksy was arrested and unmasked (as Paul Horner, naturally), that a teen was imprisoned over a “swatting prank,” and that a U.S. company was hiring mercenaries to kill ISIS militants. While most of the site’s efforts have been relatively benign, their fake story about an Ebola outbreak’s prompting a quarantine in Purdon, Texas, caused headaches for local officials at the height of coverage and anxiety about the virus.
National Report (and its “satirical” brethren) have sustained huge losses of traffic in the wake of Facebook’s algorithm changes intended to limit the reach of fake news. In response, sites have been established that spoof the domain names of legitimate news outlets such as the Washington Post and USA Today which mirror the National Report‘s content in order to more efficiently dupe readers and work around Facebook’s restrictions.
(The ubiquitous Paul Horner has since moved on to the equally fake News Examiner site, continuing to offer fictitious stories about subjects such as the world’s first successful head transplant.)
World News Daily Report
Straddling the line of fake news and the occasional seed of truth is World News Daily Report. By cobbling together misattributed stolen photographs (and often using extant, long-circulating rumors), World News Daily Report has published several viral claims often preying upon readers’ religious beliefs, including hoaxes about a newly-discovered eyewitness account of Jesus’ miracles, an ancient rumor about chariot wheels found at the bottom of the Red Sea, and a very old yarn about the discovery of giant skeletons reworked as the tale of a coverup perpetrated by the Smithsonian Institution. However, World News Daily Report frequently branches out to science-based fakery, including japes about the destruction of the world’s oldest tree and another about the discovery of a Megalodon shark in Pakistan.
Political conspiracy is another favored topic of World News Daily Report, evidenced by articles claiming that a CIA agent confessed to killing Marilyn Monroe and that Yoko Ono disclosed she once had an intimate partnering with Hillary Clinton.
While National Report and World News Daily Report often take advantage of politically, socially, or religiously divisive issues to drive outrage-based traffic, Huzlers employs a markedly different approach to fake news hoaxes, often invoking the names of popular brands and restaurants in its quest to snare readers with gross-out stories.
Among Huzlers’ most prominent yarns: Chipotle was caught using cat and dog meat in their dishes, Starbucks was discovered to be using semen in their beverages, Arizona iced tea tested positive for urine, and McDonald’s was outed for including human meat in their products.
Like its fellows, Huzlers tailors its scope to leverage topical news trends. A popular claim made by the site (at the apex of an Ebola outbreak) involved zombies, and another alleged that a man had traded his toddler to buy an Apple Watch.
Empire News (spun off from what was initially a sports-related fake news site) is another outlet responsible for the propagation of fabricated claims that spread on sites like Facebook. Some of their stories are apolitical and simply compelling to readers, such as a claim the Netflix entertainment streaming service would be shuttering due to the negative impact of piracy, or one that Las Vegas planned to legalize dog fighting to boost casino revenues.
Other Empire News hoaxes were somewhat news-based, such as one predicting massive national snowfalls for the winter of 2014-2015. Some articles targeted political or social controversies, such as one claiming a protestor in in Ferguson, Missouri, had accidentally burned down his own house. Separate rumors included one holding that Facebook was spying on gun owners for Homeland Security and one claiming that food stamp recipients would be awarded free cars (or that the food stamp program would be discontinued entirely).
When Empire News created a rumor about a WalMart shoplifter reportedly caught with $100 worth of groceries stashed in her vagina, the claim was spread not only by social media users but also by other sites of dubious credibility (such as Huzlers and Daily Viral Stuff).
Fake news sites often play to users’ existing beliefs to spread their claims, but Stuppid (a site that truly lives up to its name) is less focused in its contribution to the avalanche of fakery on the Internet. Efforts by Stuppid largely encompass morally offensive fabrications, such as a claim parents admitted to having sex in front of their kids to teach them about procreation, another about a Florida man marrying a baby, and a salacious tale of an incestuous mother-daughter relationship.
Stuppid frequently swipes publicly-available photographs such as mugshots and deliberately misattributes them, as they did in a story about two Floridians allegedly arrested for selling golden tickets to Heaven. Another such story involved a death row inmate’s purported request for a last meal of kittens illustrated with a photograph of deceased serial killer Dorothea Puente.
Paul Horner, the prolifically puerile online troll and ubiquitous fake news character (he inserts his name into all his articles) whose work previously appeared on the National Report fake news site, has since started the News Examiner. The News Examiner skirts Facebook’s crackdown on fake news sites by mixing real news and listicle items in with its fake news reports, but the site neither identifies its fake news items as “satire” nor carries a disclaimer to that effect.
Fake stories from the News Examiner that have circulated widely enough as real news to prompt numerous inquiries from our readers include articles about the world’s first successful head transplant and President Obama’s limiting churches to offering twice-monthly services.
Newswatch28 (now Newswatch33)
Newswatch28 is a relative newcomer to the fake news world, bursting onto the scene in late April 2015 with a site that simulates a TV news web site and likewise skirts Facebook’s crackdown on fake news by mixing real news articles in with its completely made-up stories.
The site’s “Quest” page unhelpfully informs readers that Newswatch28 presents “Shocking news and stories, celebrity news and gossip. Whether currently occurring, interesting, controversial, abnormal, thought provoking or satirical, we only wish to inform and entertain with the content we publish.”
Fake stories from the Newswatch28 that have circulated widely enough as real news to prompt numerous inquiries from our readers include articles about a 76-year-old woman expelled from a KFC for breastfeeding her 42-year-old son, the FDA’s approving the sale of tranquilizer guns for use on children, and an Al Pacino death hoax.
In later incarnations, the hoax-purveyor became Newswatch33; among its newer pieces were items claiming that suspected Charleston shooter Dylann Roof raised $4 million in donations, that a study was paying subjects an exorbitant sum of money to smoke pot, that a man killed himself over black actors in Star Wars, and an iteration of the popular fake news claim that NASA confirmed a 15-day period of total darkness.
The Naha Daily appears to be defunct, but during that site’s brief lifespan from September 2014 to January 2015 it published several fake news pieces that continue to pop up regularly on social media and web sites — most notably an article claiming that fashion CEO Michael Kors said he is tired of “pretending to like blacks.”
That item gained enough traction to prompt calls that Michael Kors be boycotted over his fictitious racist remarks:
#BOYCOTTMK Michael Kors CEO stated “I’m tired of pretending I like blacks” MK said “he doesn’t want his purses filled with synthetic hair”
— Cheryl Nidoy (@TLV_Cher) January 7, 2015
Naha Daily also made the pages of snopes.com with fake news pieces about Jaden Smith‘s plans to have his penis removed on his 18th birthday, Michael Jordan‘s indifference to kids dying over his sneakers, and Oprah Winfrey‘s accusing Bill Cosby of raping her.
The Stately Harold
The Stately Harold shouldn’t be fooling anyone, given the deliberate misspelling in its name, a front page filled with articles by “feminist Cassidy Boon” about such hard-hitting topics as “Redefining beauty: Why cankles are hot!” and an introduction from the Chief Editor that states “Hi! My nme is Clive Pebble. I have Dyslexia but my drem evre sens I was a litl boy has ben to strat a newspapr. Nwo I have!!”
Nonetheless, now that social media users often never visit a site’s main page, the Stately Harold has since its November 2014 start managed to fool readers with fake news articles about Hillary Clinton’s wanting to ban beards, President Obama’s referring to Baltimore rioters as “black heroes," a 9-year-old boy’s being suspended from school for saying that he “didn’t like Obama,” and President Obama’s pardoning Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
The Stately Harold unhelpfully identifies itself as a “satire” site in a manner that is deliberately difficult for readers to find, requiring them to highlight the solid black background of a page footer to disclose the site’s “satire” tag:
NewsBuzzDaily is pretty low-rent for a fake news site: it doesn’t display a logo or masthead on its pages, and it mainly traffics in lame, made-up, exclamation point-driven celebrity gossip items (e.g., “Lebron James Admits To Hair Transplant!!” and “Woman’s Lips Explode After Doing Kylie Jenner Challenge!!”) along with that lowest form of fake news, celebrity death hoaxes.
Nonetheless, the site has scored a few social media hits with puerile articles about Wendy’s restaurants using rat and horse meat to make their chili, and the Fox Network’s cancelling the popular TV series Empire after only a single season.
NewsBuzzDaily at least scores some points for carrying a (somewhat less than clear) disclaimer on all their pages advising readers that the site is “a combination of real shocking news and satire news” and that “articles written on this site are for entertainment and satirical purposes only.”
Now8News burst onto the fake news scene in mid-2015, racking up an impressive number of successful social media hoaxes despite the barely plausible premise upon which most were based: a man was arrested for having sex with a pig at Walmart, an obese woman was arrested for starving her kids so she could eat their food, a woman was arrested for "trying on" tampons in an aisle at Walmart, a separate woman was arrested for using a sausage to sexually gratify herself (also at Walmart), a man was found cannibalizing a teen in a Texas haunted house attraction, KFC was busted breeding mutant chickens, and McDonald's closed 17,000 locations because the minimum wage was raised.
The site was also responsible for rumors that an old lady was arrested making cat fur coats, a man fed his cheating fiancee's remains to her parents, President Obama lowered the age of consent to 13, a lottery winner died after gold-plating his testicles, a couple was busted running a meth lab in the "attic" of a Walmart, hair elastics presented a grave health threat because they were manufactured from used condoms, a sitter discovered a "clown doll" was actually a tiny rapist, a tube of cookie dough "exploded" inside a female shoplifter's body cavity, and finally, that a woman caused a riot after experiencing gastric distress during a round of "vodka butt shots."
— The Reporterz (@TheReporterz) January 8, 2016
A fairly new entrant to the fake news round-up in early 2016, The Reporterz started a popular hoax claim that a man killed a woman over her behavior following the #WasteHisTime Twitter trend. In addition, the site started a rumor that the state of Delaware was introducing a "child support card" that limited what mothers can and cannot buy with their stipends.
Another 2016 contender on the fake news scene was Empire Herald, which among other wild fabrications reported that a meth-addled couple ate a homeless man in Central Park. Created on 24 January 2016, the site managed to spread several (often recycled) fake news claims in the span of a few short weeks.
The name Satira Tribune clued many readers in to this web site's intent, and its tagline ("satirical news for satirical folks") certainly drove the point home to those who scrolled down to the bottom of the page. But that didn't stop the site's claims (that MMA fighter Ronda Rousey fought off several muggers, that Jimmy Carter said medical marijuana cured his cancer, that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) fined Bill Maher for smoking a joint on Real Time, or that Donald Trump paid Sarah Palin $10 million for endorsing him) from spreading on social media.
NC Scooper (Nevada County Scooper)
NC Scooper (or Nevada County Scooper) was one of the few ostensibly humor-based fake news sites whose items floated around social media. Most articles published by NC Scooper were clearly satirical in nature and not intended to deceive readers by spreading false information; nevertheless, a few efforts genuinely confused social media users. Among NC Scooper's crossover bits were pieces claiming official "gun confiscation units" were taking people's weapons, that Merle Haggard left his estate to an LBGT group, that Meg White of the White Stripes was joining Rush, and that Sen. Bernie Sanders called for "chemtrail reform."
Associated Media Coverage
Associated Media Coverage was yet another fresh face on the fake news scene in early 2016. After its February 2016 creation, Associated Media Coverage swiftly leapt into the hoaxmongering business with bits about a motorcycle curfew, an e-juice ban, a two-pet maximum ordinance, and a fabricated claim that a transgender woman was shot in a Colorado department store bathroom.
Associated Media Coverage also has apparently spawned sites that appear to be legitimate local news bearing shocking (but fake) stories: Boston Tribune, Boston Leader, and the Baltimore Gazette are three that we have been able to identity so far.
While the myriad sites referenced here represent only a small sample of the overall “satire” nuisance on social media, many widely-dispersed fake news claims have originated with them. All of the sites mentioned above exist solely to spread false information, and none can be trusted as legitimate sources, no matter how compelling their claims might be.
Last updated: 26 September 2016
Originally published: 14 January 2016