Amidst a slew of reports alleging sexual assault by prominent politicians, filmmakers, reporters and photographers in late 2017, a fake news article appearing to report that distinguished theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking had been accused of sexual misconduct was published to the web site SitSetDigital.com:
A former student of the acclaimed physicist and author, Stephen Hawking, is accusing the famed scientist of sexual assault in 1994. The accuser, Gabrielle J. Kelley, who was 22 at the time of the alleged incident, claims that Hawking took advantage of her when she was a student in one of his physics lectures.
“Although it’s very old, the memory still haunts me,” said Kelley. “I felt so powerless for so long because Hawking is so intimidating and held in such high stature in the academic community. I felt that no one would believe me.”
The article was published without any indication that it was a hoax or a piece of satire. In fact, the web site Sit Set Digital is not known for publishing fake news, which is one of the reasons some readers apparently believed the story. To its credit, Sit Set Digital quickly deleted the misinformation about Hawking, replacing it with an explanation as to how it appeared on their web site to begin with:
This is absolutely fake news. This website was abused by another contributor and used to peddle fake news. I was shocked to find out that someone would do such a thing as it has the potential to damage peoples lives and reputations. The contributor has since been removed. I apologize for this breach. I in no way support this type of satire as it ruins the credibility of real and serious accusations.
No student has come forward to allege sexual harassment by Stephen Hawking; the story was a complete hoax.