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2013 Year of Hoaxes in Review

2013 Year of Hoaxes in Review

Some have called 2013 the “Year of the Hoax” – and for good reason. Social media has been a breeding ground for unchecked information, fake photos, and unfounded rumors which often circulate without question. Today we take a look back at the ten most popular hoaxes to cross our desks here at in 2013.

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2013 Hoaxes

10. Celebrity Death Hoaxes

Whether it’s due to boredom, satire, or just someone completely botching the details of a real news report, celebrity death hoaxes are a mainstay of internet culture. While popular death hoaxes included perennial victims Adam Sandler, Eddie Murphy, and Jackie Chan, our most popular death hoax in 2013 was that of Celine Dion in October, which was fueled by a malicious Facebook app.

9. Black Friday Deaths

With heavy media coverage of Black Friday, it wasn’t a surprise that false information surrounding the event surfaced. Indeed, two particular articles in wide circulation prompted our readers to ask if they were true or not. One of these claimed that a woman stabbed three shoppers while trying to secure the last Xbox One at a Walmart, while the other stated that 42 million shoppers had died during Black Friday. Both originated from articles written as satire, but many readers who only scanned the headlines shared the stories without looking at the fine print.


8. The Time Traveling Hipster

time-traveling-hipsterOver the summer, an image circulated which appeared to show a modern “hipster” standing in a 1940’s crowd. More than a few readers speculated if this mysterious man was actually a time traveler captured in the photo. Upon further investigation, the man’s clothing, camera, and glasses were all found to be consistent with those available during that era. Conclusion: The man probably just showed up to the event in casual clothes, unlike the rest of the crowd around him.

7. Fake Facebook Giveaways

Unscrupulous Facebook page admins will go to any lengths to gain more likes for their pages. A trend in 2013 was the creation of Facebook pages claiming to give away products if their status was liked or shared. Many of these claimed to be “unsealed” products that were being given away because they could not be sold. In the end, these pages were “like farms” which never gave away anything. Once these phony giveaway pages reached a certain goal, the admin would hide the page, sell it, and the buyer would then rename it – resulting in a quick built-in fan base for their new page.

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6. Mermaids

Fake mermaid skeletonDiscovery Channel and Animal Planet aired a fictional presentation entitled Mermaids: The New Evidence in May. Although it depicted fictional encounters, clips of this special were heavily shared as “real” events. Also in May, a photo allegedly showing a “mermaid skeleton” was also heavily circulated. That photo was fake.

5. SpongeBob Canceled

In December a graphic appeared on Twitter which claimed the popular Nickelodeon TV show SpongeBob Squarepants was ending in January 2014. Despite Nick’s assurances that this was not true, the rumor persisted for weeks.

4. Harry Potter 8

An obscure April Fool’s joke stating that J.K. Rowling had announced “Harry Potter 8” suddenly received heavy circulation in September when the author announced she would be penning a Harry Potter inspired film. Those looking for information on the new Rowling work stumbled across the 5-month old hoax and believed that an 8th installment of the series was forthcoming.


3. Paul Walker “Still Alive”

paul-walkerIt only took a few hours after the tragic death of Paul Walker for hoaxes and rumors to circulate in his name. Some of these were taken from old satirical articles, while others, such as the “It wasn’t me” video were purposely edited to fool fans into thinking the actor was still alive. Rumors that Justin Bieber would replace Walker in Fast & Furious 7 were based on old speculation of the pop star’s chances of landing a role in the film months before it began shooting.

2. Sandy Hook “Hoax”

In early 2013, conspiracy theorists had their sights set on the Sandy Hook shooting, offering videos and “analysis” of news reports used as “proof” that the tragedy was staged by crisis actors. One such image – which was our highest viewed hoax-related article in 2013 – claimed to show the same woman at Sandy Hook, the Boston Bombing, and the Aurora Colorado theater shooting. After the identities of these women were proven to be different, conspiracy theorists simply kept looking for new details they could debate. We offered several rebuttals to Sandy Hook “hoax” claims, which was met by disapproval from conspiracy theorists.

World renowned skeptic Michael Shermer, when tweeting our rebuttal to the Sandy Hook “hoax” claims, wrote: Sandy Hook conspiracy theory debunked. There was no grassy knoll 2nd shooter, no actors & Obama didn’t orchestrate it 


1. Extreme Photos

Perhaps the easiest way to quickly fool your online friends is with a fake photo. Whether it’s via forced perspective or a down and dirty Photoshop job, extreme fake photos were all the rage in 2013. Our top extreme photo hoaxes in 2013 included the Angolan Witch spider – a massive spider on the side of a house (fake), a massive snake held up by an excavation machine (forced perspective), the World’s Largest Mushroom (fake), and an image of spiral clouds (a digital work of art – not real).


Honorable mentions
A few other hoaxes in 2013 are deserving of some mention here.

  • Manti Te’o – Revelations surfaced that the football star’s “girlfriend” was in fact a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who had fooled the football star into an internet romance. The hoax itself occurred in 2012, although it was revealed in 2013.
  • Miscellaneous Facebook hoaxes – On any given day, a Facebook-related hoax can be found on the social media site. Popular hoaxes in 2013 included claims that Facebook would begin charging, or that the site would shut down on a given date.
  • Magic Staircase – In May, a video showing a “magic staircase” hidden in a university received heavily circulation. The convincing video, however, was achieved by camera tricks and editing.
  • Mr. Bean – Rowan Atkinson, aka Mr. Bean, had several hoaxes in his name in 2013, most notably a death hoax and one which claimed the comic had converted to Islam.
  • #cutforbieber – A cruel Twitter hoax in which a fake movement of self-mutilation was promoted in protest of Justin Bieber’s pot use. Bieber fans were encouraged to do the same.

One can only image what hoaxes and rumors lie ahead in 2014. What hoaxes did you see in 2013 that aren’t on the list above?

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