In April 2016, social media rumors began spreading that involved headlines which partially read “Dead by ISIS”. However, the location of the purported attacks (and number of people allegedly killed) varied tremendously. One version involved Eugene, Oregon, and reported that 27 people were killed by ISIS militants:
Eugene – Islamic State group militants reportedly attacked city killing 27 people. According to police, the militants — also known as ISIS or ISIL — also claimed they posted photos online of their fighters standing in the city’s main government complex.
“They used six suicide vehicles followed by a commando of fighters wearing explosive belts,” an unidentified military source told police. “They managed to take control of the base when the army had to pull out because it suffered casualties. … Our forces have since counter-attacked and retaken control, with aerial coalition backing.”
Local police were working to clear the city of explosives and break up pockets of resistance. About 700 ISIS fighters were thought to be hiding in the city.
Details about ISIS attack (or attacks) were scarce and often contradictory. police reported that ISIS said it captured 11 army bases, which the Iraqi army has said is false.
It didn’t take much skepticism to observe such a development would immediately become a focal point in national news, no matter where in the United States it happened. However, the only news of the purported ISIS attacks came from one web site: World Current Events. The page’s sidebar listed nearly identical headlines for claims involving similar ISIS attacks in a number of locations, suggesting that the site’s sole purpose was to spread fake stories about mass murders.
While the claims escalated in popularity in April 2016, they appeared on social media as early as 1 February 2016:
— Roland Enetorp (@EnetorpRoland) February 1, 2016
The image used on the Eugene, Oregon page was originally published on 15 March 2013, and was not related to any ISIS invasion or attack in the area. The same was true for a British version of the claim, for which the image was swiped from an unrelated August 2015 news story:
A version set in California used a news photo from an unrelated January 2014 incident:
World Current Events featured no disclaimer notice warning readers that its content was not to be trusted, and aside from ISIS-related fake news articles the site hosted no information at all. The site followed a spate of fake celebrity news stories from similar fake news generator sites including McKenzie Post, Headline Brief, WCPM 3 News, WLEB 21, and FeedNewz, the primary purpose of which involved fabricating stories to drive traffic (and ad revenue) through social media shares.
But while the other prank generators stuck to fairly benign fake headlines about popular chains closing for good, celebrity moves to small towns, and stars getting nearby flat tires, World Current Events published false claims of a disturbing and frightening nature.