We’re now living in the era of deepfakes, where anyone with enough skill in audiovisual manipulation can impersonate world leaders and put words in other peoples’ mouths.
But sometimes, people just wanna Photoshop some shit for the clout.
Viral hoaxes are an unfortunate consequence of the rise of the “viral video” in the past 20 years. For every cute, funny, wild, or outrageous video that gets millions of views, there’s another one just baiting us in the shadows. The worst offenders, especially from brands, are purposefully manufactured to go viral. Others organically become a big hit after a graphic designer or two decides to have a laugh.
Either way, those of us without eagle eyes always end up coming out feeling like Booboo the Fool(Opens in a new tab). But hey, after the charade is over, at least we can marvel about how far video editing has come! Or not.
Here are our top picks for viral videos that were later revealed to be fake.
In June, a clip of a terrifying theme park monstrosity started making the rounds on Twitter. The tower looks like the lovechild of someone who thinks four shots of espresso is never enough, and a sadistic child’s Theme Park Tycoon creation.
The drop ride starts innocently enough, until it reaches the top of the tower. Riders then look like they’re dropped in their chairs from bungee cords and whipped around faster than you can say “I’m suing you, stop the ride now!”(Opens in a new tab)
Sadly, you can retract that E-ticket now, since this ride doesn’t exist. Well, technically it’s the Gyro Drop at Lotte World(Opens in a new tab) in South Korea, but it also appears to be the work of an unknown person’s CG version(Opens in a new tab) of a theme park future.
Plausibility Level: Eh. The movements are too smooth and fast to have any sense of realistic ride physics, and it’s got that nebulous CGI shine to it. Still cool! Would not ride IRL if you paid me, though.
The premise was simple: a golden eagle circling a park in Montreal suddenly swoops down and attempts to latch onto a small toddler, yeeting him briefly in the air. It’s every parent’s worst fear: random birds trying to steal your baby to raise them as one of its own.
OK maybe not, but you have to admit that the “oh shit” of the cameraman transcends language. But alas! It was a rouse. According to Thrillist(Opens in a new tab), “both the eagle and the child were created using 3D animation composited into real handheld footage. Sharp-eyed viewers were quick to discover a single frame of the video where part of the eagle’s screen-left wing goes transparent.”
The video was actually a group project for a 3D Animation and Digital Design class at Montreal’s National Animation and Design Centre. Dammit kids, stop being good at art and making us feel dumb!
Plausibility Level: Have you ever seen a giant hawk? This could’ve checked out.
You ever twerk so hard you set yourself on fire? No? Anyone?
Well in 2013, everyone was duped into thinking this girl did. The original video featured the caption “I tried making a sexy twerk video for my boyfriend and things got a little too hot :).” In the midst of a handstand, twerking against a doorframe, the girl on screen falls into a glass table, and then her leg suddenly catches fire from the candles.
This was less of a “fail” like the video advertised, and more of a “win” for late night TV, as the incredibly successful prank was actually the work of Jimmy Kimmel Live. The woman in the video is Daphne Avalon, a professional stuntwoman, and the “uncut” version of the video(Opens in a new tab) features Kimmel himself busting in the door and putting her out with a fire extinguisher.
Plausibility Level: That panic looks real! Except one little detail. Is that really the sexiest outfit to twerk in?
Kobe Byrant, in typical Kobe fashion, slips on some Nikes and jumps over an oncoming, speeding car with ease. “That’s how you do it! Hyperdunks! Do not try this at home!”, he says to the camera. You can already know where this is going.
Because it turns out that not even Kobe himself tried it at home. In 2008, Hyperdunks were the latest line of Nikes, and yes, this was a case of brands striking again. The worst is that we’re not even sure how they edited it — when Kobe was asked how performed the “stunt,” he simply replied “Hollywood, baby!”(Opens in a new tab)
Plausibility Level: Solidly plausible, until he starts plugging the brand, that is. Also, it was 2008.
Animals doing people things! The very peak of wholesome internet content, and we the public eat it right up.
Case in point: In May 2018 a German viral video showed a group of ducks waiting patiently at a crosswalk for the light to turn green, before waddling very politely across the road. It got over 2.7 million views on Facebook and thousands of retweets on Twitter before anyone could tell that the cute and cuddly gig was up.
A Twitter account called HoaxEye(Opens in a new tab), known for debunking viral content, exposed our mallard phonies as merely a “traffic educational video” made by the marketing company Ed Saarland. But what exactly were they trying to teach here? Don’t walk into oncoming traffic? I’m sure we’ve got much more common sense than real ducks do in this case, thank you very much.
Plausibility Level: OK, come on people, this was so clearly fake. Just look at the way those duck feet moonwalk across the street like a bad Bethesda game glitch! I’m surprised they didn’t T-pose(Opens in a new tab) when they got to the other side.
Very rarely do shark encounters ever go as epic and bloody as Shark Week commercials. But because we’ve all be classically conditioned by the likes of Sharknado, I think it’s safe to see that any almost-encounter inspires a healthy dose of “holy shit” in most people.
Enter GoPro Man, who “fought off” a great white shark in Sydney Harbor. Well, kinda. He jumps in the water, sees a shark passing by below him, freaks out, and nopes out back onto land.
But that dude was never in any danger. It was all a “social experiment” for Australian VFX and production company, The Woolshed Company.
Plausibility Level: The video description says they GoPro filmed it at “Manly jump rock.” That should’ve been a big red flag.
Forget Area 51, it seemed like the latest creation from Boston Dynamics had broken out of the lab and walked right onto our streets. Immediately after watching Mr. Roboto over here walk up a driveway, everyone was quick to yell “oncoming robot apocalypse!”
Cool your jets everyone, because as cool as submitting to our robot overlords might be, it’s not happening anytime soon. This robot video from August 2018 was actually animated using the Unity engine (usually used for hyperrealistic video game footage), and was created by the Unity Demo team for the short film Adam(Opens in a new tab).
The model is free to download(Opens in a new tab) if you want an “Adam” of your own. Just be nice, you never know when the switch will be flipped.
Plausibility Level: Boy does that look real. OK, maybe the shadows get a little wonky along the feet, but wow I sure was just about to accept that we suddenly advanced decades in mechanical engineering at face value.
Trump’s behavior is already so goddamn weird that at this point he could do anything and we wouldn’t be surprised. Spouting racism and insulting pretty much everyone is now somehow normal. So when a video went around of Trump hissing like a snake in response to a question about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh in September 2018, we were all like, “sure, why not?”
Gizmodo(Opens in a new tab) managed to track down the original context of the video, which they claim is only “a little less scary.”
“The original video was shot on December 5, 2017, and shows President Trump during a lunch with Republican members of the Senate like Jeff Flake. They’re discussing the Republican’s $1.5 trillion tax bill.” Trump is actually saying “thank you,” but he does put an unusually long emphasis on the “thh.” Someone simply added a cat’s hissing noise over it.
Plausibility Level: I have to laugh, or else I’ll break down, cause this is a little too real.
If you think you can score a point on Serena Williams, you cannot. If you think you can catch a stray ball in mid-air like Evan Longoria, you also cannot. Not even Longoria can.
In the 2011 video, the Tampa Bay Rays player suddenly makes an amazing, bare-handed catch during spring training batting practice when a ball heads straight for the interviewer’s head. He doesn’t even bat an eye, simply tossing the ball back and saying “guys, keep it on the field.”
It’s an amazing feat! The peak of human athletic performance! It’s also totally fake. According to Snopes(Opens in a new tab), this was just a well-planned, low-key Gillette ad made to go viral. Ugh, brands! Stop doing this underhanded nonsense, I want to know if I’m explicitly being pandered to!
Plausibility Level: Seemed wild, but plausible. Except once you notice the “Gillette” ads in the background everywhere (and the fact that the stadium is empty, no one else is around, and it’s the middle of the night.)
While you should always thank the bus driver before you drop off the battle bus in Fornite, you do not have to thank this hawk for what it’ll drop at your local BBQ.
The 2016 video shows a hawk swooping around a lake before dipping down, picking up a snake, and tossing it in the middle of a group’s BBQ. First of all, zero points, since the snake didn’t even make it on the grill. Second of all, minus 50 points since this video is fake as hell.
Part of a campaign called “Embrace the Hunt,”(Opens in a new tab) this viral footage was meant to promote Australian football club, Hawthorn, and help launch its Australian Football League finals campaign. But that’s uh, a pretty big stretch, guys. Hawk plus snake equals football?
While Woolshed (ugh, again?) assisted the brand’s antics in video editing, some agreed that it’s fine to use a viral video to promote your shit, just maybe don’t lie(Opens in a new tab) to journalists(Opens in a new tab) and make them look foolish before you pull the digital curtain back.
Plausibility Level: Nice try setting it in a cloudy, neutral-toned day to get away with having no visible shadows. But when you set the blur tool to max, you’re not fooling anyone.
Don’t feel bad if you were fooled by any of these viral phonies — the internet eventually makes fools of us all.
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Sage is the newest Culture writer on the block at Mashable NYC. They recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, and have previously worked for The Dr. Oz Show, NorthSouth Productions, and on Netflix’s ‘The OA Part II’. Off the clock, they can be found testing out cupcake recipes, collecting dolls, and watching Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure for the millionth time.