Russian bots, rogue planets and robot beheadings: fake news stories that duped the world this year

Fake news has continued to capture readers in 2017

Fake news and click bait articles have plagued the media this year, and while indulging in these kinds of news stories has become an everyday occurrence for some readers, it’s become increasingly important to be able to spot the real from the fake.

Here, we take a look at the top 10 fake news stories of 2017 that managed to dupe the public.

Saudi Arabia beheads its first robot citizen?

In early November 2017, satirical website, Duffel Blog, fooled readers putting a fabricated spin on a real story about ‘robot citizen’ Sophia.

Granted citizenship ahead of the Future Investment Initiative conference (see video), Duffel Blog reported that Sophia was dragged into the street by a band of angry Saudi men.

“The number of robot citizens in Saudi Arabia was reduced back to zero today after Sophia Robot was beheaded in a public square in Riyadh,” the website reported, and though not a recognised news outlet Duffel Blog’s report gained attention all around the globe.

Russian bots influence the General Election?

Following the snap General Election this summer, there have been a number of reports that Russia was behind ‘bot accounts’ created to influence the UK public and media circulating fake images and new stories. One such fake image, of a Muslim woman ignoring the Westminster attacks, gained enough traction to go viral.

President Trump calls Philippines lawmaker a ‘little narco’?

In October, the Pilipino Star Ngayon published a column containing direct comments made by president Trump while travelling on Air Force One.

The president reportedly said of Antonio Trillanes’ meeting with Senator Marco Rubio, “the little narco met with Senator Marco.”

Given that Trump is well known for issuing less than flattering nicknames, it’s unsurprising this piece of fake reporting was mistaken as real.

Harvey Weinstein cuts a deal to out ‘elite Hollywood pedophiles’?

In the wake of October 2017’s Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment and assault claims, Neon Nettle website claimed the film producer had cut a deal to give the FBI the names of pedophiles in Hollywood and Washington DC. Plausible? Maybe.

However, on digging a little deeper Neon Nettle is well known for pushing completely fabricated ‘news’ articles with no reputable news organisations picking up on the story. The citing of ‘anonymous’ sources also raised another red flag over the credibility of the claims.

Planet X heads for earth?

American space agency Nasa has not issued any warnings about the trajectory of another planet intersecting Earth’s orbit, but that didn’t stop News4KTLA reporting that a “rogue planet” was heading straight for us.

Claiming that Nasa had known about the mystery planet for years, but had “declined to warn us”, the website backed up its claims with quotes from Nasa spokesperson, Heather Cartwright, who reportedly admitted Nasa had been tracking this ninth planet for at least a decade and it was “definitely headed towards planet Earth”.

Ultimately untrue, the reports gained traction thanks to fake news site News4KTLA appropriating the call letters of legitimate Los Angeles television station and news outlet KTLA.

Aborted fetuses used as Halloween decorations at Planned Parenthood?

In November 2017, the Last Line of Defense website ran a story claiming a Planned Parenthood employee had been arrested after using “aborted babies” as Halloween decorations.

Despite featuring a disclaimed that its output is ‘satirical fiction’, the story duped many readers who genuinely believed Eileen Gunderson of Piedmont, North Dakota had used arms, legs and heads in her Halloween display which had “disgusted and concerned” neighbour, Bethania Sky.

Texas church shooter: an atheist on the Democratic National Committee payroll?

The mass shooting at Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in Texas on 5 November 2017, spread a number of rumours and hoaxes, one such being that the shooter was an atheist who was also on the payroll of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Reports online suggested both the FBI and Texas State Police had confirmed the claims. However, given that the story origination on the website Freedum Junkshun, a fake news site with a ‘pure satirical fiction’ disclaimer, it’s likely you won’t find any truth here.

Mandalay Bay security guard accomplice to Las Vegas shooting?

Fake news websites capitalized on the 1 October 2017 mass shooting event in Las Vegas with numerous claims of a ‘second shooter’.

Fake news sites focused in on Mandalay Bay security guard, Jesus Campos, who reportedly went to investigate a door alarm on the 32nd floor and was injured when the shooter fired at his hotel room door, with several sites claiming Campos wasn’t an innocent victim, but a suspected accomplice.

Two weeks later, an imposter CNN look-a-like website doubled down on claims of fake news reporting Campos (mis-spelled Compos) had been arrested for his involvement and that he had superficially injured himself to cover his actions.

At the time of writing, law enforcement has not at any time suggested Campos was an accomplice, much less taken him into custody on that basis.

Melania Trump steals Michelle Obama’s speech?

Though there were some similarities in Trump and Obama’s speeches – Trump’s from September 2017 and Obama’s from September 2014 – the passage featured in a meme that took the internet by storm did not appear in the First Lady’s speech.

Memes claiming the Trumps have stolen ideas or speeches from others are common on the internet with Donald Trump accused of plagiarising Hitler, Elle Woods from Legally Blonde, Bee Movie and comic book villain, Red Skull.

President Trump abolishes child support?

In September 2017, two headlines created using the prank generator React365 suggested president Trump and congress had effectively ended all child support payments as of 2018.

Blaring ‘No more child support after 2017’ and ‘Child support said to end by beginning of 2018’. The headlines took the internet by storm and, of course, provoked a flurry of social media comments by duped readers.

The Drum is bringing together a panel industry experts to talk "Scale, Trust and the Era of Fake News" at Media Slap on Friday 24 November at Google, London.

You can purchase tickets now via the event website, which you can grab for a £100 discount per ticket. This conference looks at the media publishing business, focusing on areas such as technology, audience, content, new products and other revenue models.

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