Scams & Deception Fake News That Fooled Real News Fake News That Fooled Real News

You may have looked up information upon hearing about the death of a celebrity – and stumbled across an article posted by the website This supposedly-satirical website offers untold numbers of fake, duplicated stories regarding celebrities in the name of humor. There are two primary problems with this scenario, however: the stories aren’t funny and real news sites have been fooled by these phony articles.

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Fake News

Update: March 8, 2016, a series of Tweets by Ringo Starr led many fans to find the fake Mediamass article about George Martin. You can see more about the George Martin death report here.

While most readers of well-known satirical sites such as The Onion or The Daily Currant typically understand that these websites are at least attempting to be funny, those who discover articles by Mediamass aren’t always aware that the stories are fake – even those writing for legitimate news websites.

The site labels itself as The Mediamass Project : Media criticism through satire. A further explanation continues:

Our website is very new (launched back at the end of October 2012) and still under construction. The ‘People’ section the only active one.

The concept is to select the most typical, representative and recurrent articles across Gossip magazines and to make them available for all the celebrities in our database.

The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true.

Thus thousands of celebrities, Bill Gates in USA, Zhang Ziyi in China, Ranbir Kapoor in India, etc. all have a dog called “Spinee” recovering from successful surgery.

We won’t change the world, but at least we’ll laugh trying.

Though they claim their celebrity articles are a “humorous parody,” they aren’t presented with any semblance of humor or satire. These auto-generated stories are duplicated for hundreds of celebrities, with only basic personal details (such as age or gender) changed to suit the celebrity for which the article is written. Take, for example, their article which “debunks” celebrity death hoaxes. The same article exists for every celebrity on the website. It isn’t news and it isn’t real.

Example: Fake stories debunking celebrity death hoaxes

As stated above, one type of story that can be found for every person on Mediamass “debunks” a death rumor supposedly circulating about that celebrity. Aside from basic details which vary for each celebrity, the rest of the “death hoax” article is duplicated verbatim.

Below are screen shots of the “death hoax” articles for Nicolas Cage, Hillary Clinton, and Jim Carrey when we first posted this article in 2013.


Media Fooled

Some legitimate news sites have cited these phony stories by Mediamass, not realizing they were fake. Below are some examples of real news outlets which have been fooled by Mediamass, often without sourcing them.

  • Travelers Today. This article debunks a Bill Cosby death hoax, dated June 6, 2013 and written by Karen Fredrickson. It reprints – almost verbatim – the death hoax seen in the examples above, but does not cite Mediamass as a source.
  • India Today. This article debunks a Lady Gaga death hoax. It is dated May 27, 2013 and also closely mirrors the Mediamass article without credit.
  • International Business Times. After a real death hoax for Jackie Chan circulated online, IBT used the phony Mediamass story to debunk the rumor. Mediamass was not cited, and the article was later removed and blocked from the Internet Archive.
  • Epoch Times. In an article about numerous celebrity death hoaxes, this article does source Mediamass – but as a legitimate news source – and uses the phony “rep” statement in regards to an Eddie Murphy death hoax.
  • Huffington Post. In this story about Ashley Judd, a fake Mediamass story regarding nude photos (which exists for every celebrity on the site) is linked as if it were a legitimate source.
  • Gloucestershire Echo. In a report debunking rumors about the death of Macaulay Culkin, this report appears to be completely drawn from the Mediamass report. Not only were they fooled, but they didn’t give credit.

“Death Hoax” Hoax

An article – which exists for all celebrities on Mediamass – claims that reports of celebrity’s death are merely a hoax. Mediamass continually changes the date so that it appears that a death hoax has recently occurred for that celebrity. This often leads to some social media users finding the fake Mediamass article and refuting breaking news of a celebrity death as a hoax. The continual re-dating of these fake “death hoax” articles also leads some fans to point to the “coincidence” that a death hoax immediately preceded the celebrity’s actual death. In reality, there was no death hoax at all, as the Mediamass article likely existed years before the person’s actual death.

In a few high-profile cases, these articles have confused fans when a celebrity actually passes away. Virtually every recent celebrity death is initially rebutted by fans who find the fake Mediamass “death hoax” article. Some examples over the past several years include:

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On July 8, 2012, Ernest Borgnine passed away at the age of 95. Some readers may have been confused by his “death hoax” article posted on Mediamass.

On October 27, 2013, news of the death of Lou Reed was angrily “refuted” by readers who found the fake “death hoax” article posted by Mediamass – unaware that it was not a true news story.

On November 30, 2013, immediately following reports of the death of actor Paul Walker, some readers posted the Mediamass “death hoax” article, believing the actor’s death was a hoax. Mediamass eventually changed the story. See the full Paul Walker “death hoax” story here.

On February 2, 2014, as news of the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman broke, some fans called the reports a hoax based on the Mediamass report, while others marveled at the “coincidence” that a death hoax occurred days before the actor’s death. The only evidence of a death hoax, however, was the fake Mediamass article.

On February 24, 2014, when news that Harold Ramis of Ghostbusters fame had passed away, fans looking for verification ran across the fake Mediamass article and shared it, claiming reports of Ramis’ death were a hoax.

In March 2016, Nancy Reagan’s death was reported by TMZ, but some social media users stumbled across the fake Mediamass entry for her and declared the news to be a hoax. Others marveled of the “coincidence” that a death hoax occurred only a day before her actual death. In reality, Mediamass had simply re-dated their old post as they always do. Days later, initial reports of the death of George Martin were called a hoax by readers who found his bogus Mediamass “death hoax” entry.

Why do they do it? AKA “Media Fooled, Part 2”

One may wonder why such a website would exist at all. Although Mediamass claims to exist to somehow prove that journalism standards have waned in recent years, their website fits the model of poor “satire” published to grab easy back links, gain popularity, and eventually increase advertising revenue.

By the end of 2013, some writers had begun to catch on to Mediamass.  In their attempts to “debunk” the fake site, however, these well-intended writers often include links to Mediamass in their articles. This practice falls into the hands of Mediamass, which gains free backlinks whenever an article is “debunked.” We encourage any writers seeking to debunk a bogus Mediamass article to include “nofollow” links, or no links at all.

Bottom Line is a website which mass-produces fake stories in the name of humor. It appears that the joke is on those legitimate news websites which have unknowingly been fooled into citing fake articles by Mediamass and giving them free back links in return.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned here is that those attempting to present legitimate news reports must exercise caution with their choice of sources in this age of hoaxes, rumors, and fake news sites such as

Updated March 8, 2016

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  • Shizuppy

    I find it to be rather fascinating. An automated website with computer-generated content which allows the general media to display its idiocy through unresearched links and quotations. It’s essentially an automated irony-generating machine — the quintessence of 21st Century postmodernism. Culture-jamming at a core level.

    What the site’s designers intended to create is irrelevant. The result is an interesting social commentary.

  • LeeH

    And now, they’re “reporting” that Lauren Bacall’s death is a hoax.

    • And presumably some are suggesting that a “death hoax” circulated only days before she passed away.

  • waffles

    It’s not comical when fans of Lou Reed or Paul Walker hear initial death reports, and are comforted by the “death hoax” articles on this site – only to find out the person did in fact die. The Onion is comical. Mediamass seems more like blanket SEO cloaked in the name of satire.

  • waffles

    Purely speculation here, but it doesn’t seem as though they are truly about creating satire as much as they are about generating traffic.

    • Kamilla Vaski

      I came upon it today. It is boring and repetitive, and not real satire, unlike The Onion for example, and appears to exist only in order to take in advertising revenue for its makers.

  • criticalstinker


    People like RosieRed are the exact reason why the successful existence of sites like is actually pretty hilarious.

    And yes, as a result of their SEO link-baiting, every time someone like her who so deeply cares about how Brad and Jen are doing clicks on their links, some dude somewhere is laughing his ass off while sitting on a pile of money.

    Sometimes it is fun to play tricks on stupid people. Who’da thunk you could get rich doing it too?

  • RosieRed

    After trying to look up the latest news on a celebrity, I realised, after a very short while, that the whole thing was fake … but I admit it had me fooled at first, especially when I read that he had split from his long-term partner. It was not a pleasant experience as I was truly shocked for a few seconds as it seemed so unlikely. The whole thing was made more real by the comments made by so-called ‘readers’ who also expressed shock, sympathy etc. I’m all for spoofs – many of which are very funny – but this is just a form of VERY sick humour clearly designed to confuse and distress proper loyal fans (not the ones who only search the net for ‘gossip/dirt’. And not to mention such things causing embarrassment & distress to the names & families of those involved.) The whole point of a spoof is to make it pretty obvious, hence the humour – but this is just done to confuse and, at the very least, annoy. For God’s sake get your kicks elsewhere whoever did this or, preferably, use any talent (?) you may have to write something genuinely funny or useful!! This sort of stuff really should be pulled from the net, full stop.

  • David

    I know the guy who did it… For sure it’s not humor for Olive but just a SEO way to earn money with Google Adsense. By the way, you can report this site to Google Adsense (Report policy violation) saying “The site violates AdSense program policies in other ways / infringes on the legal rights of others” by folowing the link “AdChoices” on every ads.

    • Sidewine

      Also seems like a textbook breach of “Do not include deceptive or manipulative content or construction to improve your site’s search engine ranking”.

      I could tolerate silly randomly-generated stories about fluff, but “[celebrity name] death hoax in [current month], not actually dead” is breathtakingly cynical.

  • Lams

    Quote: “Huffington Post. In this article about Ashley Judd, a fake Mediamass story regarding nude photos (which exists for every celebrity on the site) is linked as if it were a legitimate source.”

    Have you read the Mediamass fake story quoted by the Huffington Post? It’s really a shame that a main stream media quotes an article as a real source when a quick glimpse makes obvious it is a fake. And I don’t mention the Warning displayed on every pages, but the contents. The author clearly did not read the article she quotes.
    What a shame !
    Mediamass proves its point here.

    • waffles

      It’s a good point to be made, and no one here will complain about HuffPost embarrassing itself when posting such flimsy “research.” To the casual reader, however, the point of Mediamass mostly lost and these fake articles really just seem like a nuisance.

  • waffles

    Got it. It still doesn’t seem very funny.

  • Lams

    As I understood the project, the humorous part is not in the article contents, but in the mass production:
    “The concept is to select the most typical, representative and recurrent articles across Gossip magazines and to make them available for all the celebrities in our database.” (Quote)

    To point out “Sensationalism, lack of verification of information, ethics and standards issues” (Quote)

    And the fact that some real media are fooled prooves the point! They give credit to an article from an unknow source (Mediamass is nothing) with a red line saying “This story seems to be false” pointing to a page saying “The ‘People’ section is a humorous parody of Gossip magazines, all stories are obviously not true.”

    I don’t know how many medias felt for it but I think it’s well done!

    • waffles

      That does appear to be the joke, but many people seeking information who find these articles don’t seem to find the joke very funny.

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