During a bizarre phenomenon known as the Creepy Clown Epidemic (or simply the 2016 clown sightings) that hit the U.S. in the fall of 2016, a class of junk news articles claimed that Congress had voted to ban clown masks and levy fines of $50,000 on anyone caught wearing them:
Following the scare of random clowns appearing at night and threatening lives, congress has passed a new law in an attempt to put a stop to the madness.
Anyone who is caught wearing a clown mask publicly can be charged $50,000 and be jailed for a maximum of 1 year. Authorities are calling these masked individuals “terrorists”.
“We don’t know where they come from or what they want” said president Barack Obama, “but they have to be stopped”. Even on Halloween, clown costumes and masks will be prohibited from public wear. “I don’t care who you are, if you’re wearing a clown mask, your going to jail and will be fined. Even if you’re Donald Trump, we don’t care, we will taser you and arrest you”, said NYPD police officer Jan Hughes.
The unusual nature of the clown phenomenon made it difficult for many social media users to separate fact from fiction: in and of itself, the widespread clown frenzy sounded implausible (as did some of the straightforward news reports about it). But the reports about Congress' outlawing the wearing of clown masks was clearly fake, originating with the Daily Finesser, an offshoot of the well-known Huzlers junk news site. Huzlers' disclaimer noted that:
Huzlers.com is the most notorious urban satirical entertainment website in the world with the most shocking headlines and articles shared by trillions around the world.
After the clown sightings began in August 2016, several sensational but untrue stories circulated about the strange trend. Junk news sites capitalized on a groundswell of public fascination by claiming authorities authorized the killing of clowns, clowns killed 23 people in a massacre in Canada, a man dressed as a clown was shot in Indiana, a killer clown left a note threatening a school, and two women were assaulted or killed at a Walmart because their makeup was clownish.