When it all goes wrong : top five social media hoaxes

We all know you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers. But what about when it comes to social media? Well, take that saying and multiply it by a factor of at least 100. Social media is so open to abuse, spam and fake accounts that it never fails to catch people out. Here’s some great examples of when social networks have lead to some pretty public blunders, fooling the traditional media.

The fake football transfer

In 2009 during the transfer window, news began appearing about a rising star : Masal Bugduv, who was a 16 year old being tipped to move to Arsenal. The Times even ran a piece on 50 top rising stars in football, where he was featured, as one of Moldova’s finest. A series of blog posts about the player and Associated Press articles gave rise to the interest and coverge spread onto other sport publications. To back up their story, The Times linked to the Wikipedia entry on the player. One small problem was that Bugduv didn’t actually exist. The people behind the hoax planted fake stories online to build interest, and you have to give them credit for the fact that the experimented culminated in coverage in a national publication. A lesson for us all, and particularly for journalists that use Wikipedia as their main source.

Fake Mrs Murdoch

This one is pretty impressive, as fake tweeter Tommaso De Benedetti managed to take his Twitter hoaxes so far that he even got a celebrity account verified by Twitter. He impersonated Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng Murdoch and engaged in a number of pretty funny tweets ‘on her behalf’ including some rather flirty messages with Ricky Gervais. And Twitter users and media alike believed what was going on, because Twitter had verified the account, meaning it was seen to be confirmed as the real Wendy Deng. When Twitter discovered their mistake and removed the verification, a series of tweets followed to expose the error :

Mike Wise lost his job

An unusual example here that shows what can happen if you try to execute a social media hoax without really understanding the risks. Sports commentator Mike Wise decided to ‘experiment’ with his social media following and posted an incorrect story about a sports personality Ben Roethlisberger. The story took hold and received a lot of attention. While Wise claimed that he wanted to see how far Twitter would carry a false story, the result was that he lost pretty much all credibility from his fans, and was suspended from his job. A lesson in leaving the hoaxing to the hoaxers, not to the media themselves.

Video hoax : flying like a bird

Even though we know exactly what technology today is capable of, sometimes something comes along so good that you simply want to believe it’s true. So when Floris Kaayk released a series of videos around his Human Birdwing project, which documented his experiment to fly with custom-built wings. Again, the story found itself into the mainstream media, with the Daily Mail reporting on it, where he spoke about his project into human flying. The video below shows the experiment in full – believable?

The most elaborate hoax of all time?

That’s what this elaborate hoax has been called, as an influential tech blogger Mark Davidson appeared to have his Twitter account hacked, with messages sent from one of his ghostwriters, blasting him for employing a team of people to run his account while he is out playing golf, or generally being drunk and angry. As coverage goes, this one was pretty impressive. Even pulling the wool over tech writers eyes, with Robin Wauters covering it in TechCrunch, calling on @MarkDavidson to ‘wake up’ as his account was effectively being hacked. Rumours began circulating into the story behind it, with some wonderig if Mark Davidson was real at all – prompting a website dedicated to the subject :


It then turned out that not only was Mark Davidson really real, but that the whole thing had been executed by him, to prove that he didn’t actually use ghostwriters at all.

The most elaborate hoax of all time?

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