Editor’s Note: This article is part of Know Your Meme’s annual Top Ten Review series looking back at some of the most memorable and popular memes, events and people that defined the Internet culture in 2013 as we know it. And brace yourselves, the grand finale list Best Memes of 2013 is coming soon. In the meantime, check out Cheezburger’s year-in-review of internet memes over at Memebase!
nce upon a time on the Internet, there was a popular saying that went pictures or it didn’t happen and it was generally held to be true. Otherwise known as the Internet Rule 26, the idea behind it was simple enough (when making an unusual claim, present a picture along with it as proof) and most of the time, it worked. But now, this rule is on the verge of collapse. With viral stardom no longer being seen as the luck of the draw, people on the Internet are now eager to try anything on their quest to the holy grail of one million views, and one of the most increasingly popular ways to get there seems to be… well, making it all up. Not only that, we, as audience, have also managed to render ourselves more gullible than ever to such unfounded rumors and fabrications, much thanks to our insatiable demand for clickbait headlines and zeal to break the story FIRST that CNN has referred to “a virality industry” in declaring 2013 the Year of the Online Hoax.
TL;DR, hoaxing has become more or less a new sport of the century among the gods of trolls. And with that in mind, here are the top ten most memorable hoaxes from this year!
A Chinese man named Jian Feng divorced and sued his wife for £55,000 after discovering that she’d had plastic surgery in South Korea before they met. Feng, 38, was said to have been “horrified” when she gave birth to an ugly baby daughter. He suspected her of having an affair. His wife then confessed to having plastic surgery.
- The Hoaxer: Heilongjiang Morning Post
- Duration: c. 2004 – present
- How It Started: Since its initial run in the Chinese provincial newspaper sometime in 2004, this incredulously tall and ugly tale about a heartless Chinese man has been circulating online for years, making occasional appearances in the offbeat sections of tabloid magazines all over the world. This year, the story made its its biggest viral splash yet after The Irish Times picked up on it in November, which quickly snowballed into a chain of syndicated headlines expressing shock and disgust at the man.
- How It Unraveled: The Heilongjiang Morning Post article has yet to be confirmed or debunked, but Snopes and other sites have dismissed the story on account of its sketchy reputation, which has previously issued apologies after failing to factcheck their accounts. In addition, the image often accompanying the story has been identified as a cruel advertisement for a plastic surgery center in Taiwan.
Miley Cyrus has AIDS.
- The Hoaxers: 4chan’s /b/ (random)
- Duration: October 2nd, 2013
- How It Started: A brainchild of 4chan’s notorious pranksters, this smear campaign was introduced on the heels of a pregnancy rumor during the pinnacle of Miley Cyrus’ media stunts in early October. Throughout the first week of the month, the rumor spread across the Internet in many different shapes and forms, ranging from Twitter hashtags like #CureForMiley and Facebook support groups to YouTube comments wishing her quick recovery and fake news articles detailing the singer’s battle against AIDS.
- How It Unraveled: Within hours of launch, a screenshot of the original 4chan thread was submitted to Reddit’s /r/4chan subreddit, followed by a string of articles from BuzzFeed and other internet news sites exposing the hoax.
Fans of Justin Bieber harmed themselves and called on others to do the same in trying to persuade the singer to stop smoking weed.
- The Hoaxers: 4chan’s /b/ (random)
- How It Happened: It all began in January when TMZ published a leaked photograph of Justin Bieber allegedly smoking cannabis at a party, something that a few of his sponsors and young tween fans weren’t excited to find out about. But for those on 4chan, home to some of the pop singer’s most vehement critics and anti-fans on the web, it only seemed logical to seize this opportunity and crank up the public outrage by spreading a baseless rumor that Beliebers are cutting themselves in protest against the star’s alleged recreational drug use.
- How It Unraveled: Though once considered the dingy basement of the Internet where anything goes and no one asks, 4chan has become too notorious for its own good. The scheme was debunked as a hoax in the matter of hours and its progress tracked in real time by Gawker, BuzzFeed and others. It was practically dead on arrival.
A golden eagle tried to snatch a baby in Montreal and almost got away.
- The Hoaxers: Students at The National Animation and Design Centre in Montreal, Canada.
- Duration: December 19th, 2012
- How It Happened: The video instantly took off on YouTube and Reddit, racking up 18 million views in the first 48 hours of upload. As the video began making the rounds, some viewers began raising questions as to the scientific feasibility of an eagle picking up a baby.
- Who Fell For It: Gawker, TIME, Mashable, The Huffington Post
- How It Unraveled: Later that same day, the students who produced the video came forth in a blog post published on the school’s website. According to the students, both the eagle and the baby were created in special effects.
Samsung paid off a $1.05 billion judgment awarded to Apple in a patent infringement lawsuit entirely in nickels.
- The Hoaxer: El Deforma
- Duration: August 2012 – present
- How It Started: The story was originally written as a satire piece about the highly publicized patent war between Apple and Samsung. It first went viral in August 2012 after it was mistaken for a real news story and once again in November 2013 after a United States jury awarded Apple an additional $290 million in damages.
- How It Unraveled: The story has been identified as a hoax by Snopes and The Musuem of Hoaxes.
@Horse_ebooks is a spambot account on Twitter that automatically generates various excerpts from equine e-books.
- The Hoaxers: Jacob Bakkila, creative director of BuzzFeed
- Duration: August 2010 – September 2013
- How It Started: In August 2010, Jacob Bakkila began tweeting a series of sentence fragments using the handle @Horse_ebooks, which bills itself as the companion Twitter account for an online ebook store. In the following years, Bakkila’s carefully crafted nonsensical tweets reached a cult-like status and inspired a series of fan art and spin-off Twitter accounts.
- How It Unraveled: In September, BuzzFeed’s creative director Bakkila outed himself as the author of @Horse_ebooks after covertly running the account for over two years. The revelation coincided with the launch of Bear Stearns Bravo, an interactive video game loosely based on the 2008 collapse of the global investment bank Bear Sterns.
A video shows a dancer twerking in a hand stand against the door, shortly before she loses balance, falls into a candle-lit table and catches on fire.
- The Hoaxer: Jimmy Kimmel, ABC late-night talk show host
- Duration: September 3rd – September 9th, 2013
- How It Started: In early September, YouTuber Caitlin Heller uploaded a video titled “Worst Twerk Fail Ever – Girl Catches Fire!”, which shows a young woman’s pants catching on fire after her handstand twerking session goes south. Released at the height of the twerking hangover on the web and in the news, the video instantly went viral on YouTube
- How It Unraveled: On September 9th, Kimmel revealed on his show that the video was a hoax orchestrated by the production team and professional stuntwoman Daphne Avalon.
A waitress in New Jersey was denied a tip by a family she had served because she is lesbian.
- The Hoaxer: Dayna Morales, a New Jersey restaurant server
- Duration: November 13th – November 26th, 2013
- How It Started: In November, Dayna Morales, a waitress at the Gallop Asian Bistro restaurant in Bridgewater, New Jersey, sent a message to the LGBTQ advocacy group Have a Gay Day with a claim that she was denied a tip from a family she had served because of her sexual orientation, along with a photograph of a receipt allegedly containing a hand-written note from the customer. The story was instantly met by public outrage, national news coverage and donations for Morales from her supporters.
- How It Unraveled: In late November, members of a New Jersey family came forward in an interview with NBC4 and dismissed Morales’ accusations, asserting that they had left a generous tip and did not leave a homophobic note on the receipt.
University of Notre Dame’s linebacker Manti Te’o lost his grandmother and his girlfriend Lennay Kekua to leukemia only six hours apart on the same day.
- The Hoaxer: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Manti Te’o
- Duration: September 2012 – January 2013
- How It Started: In 2008, Te’o’s high school friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo began assuming a made up identity of Lennay Kekua. According to the news reports, Te’o first “met” Lennay Kekua online sometime in November 2009 and the two kept in steady contact. Then in September 2012, Te’o found out that Kekua had passed away from leukemia, only hours after the passing of his grandmother.
- Who Fell For It: Te’o’s heart-wrenching and inspiring story was reported on by many sports news outlets, including CBS Sports and South Bend Tribune, and even made a special appearance on ESPN’s College GameDay to discuss his ordeal. Te’o became the runner-up nominee for the 2012 Heisman Memorial Trophy Award, one of the highest distinctions in college football.
- How It Unraveled: In January, Deadspin published an investigative article surrounding the identity of Lennay Kekua, which asserted that Te’o’s dead girlfriend was an online persona fabricated by his friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o had never met Kekua in real life. That same day, University of Notre Dame issued a statement that Te’o had been a victim of a hoax. On January 18th, Te’o maintained that he was not involved in the hoax making, while admitting that he had omitted certain facts in his previous statements to hide his exclusively online relationship. Then in early February, Tuiasosopo confessed to the hoax and said that it was driven by his secret affection for Te’o.
While on a flight to Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day, ABC producer Elan Gale exchanged a series of passive aggressive notes with an unruly female passenger, which ended up with Gale getting slapped the face.
- The Hoaxer: Elan Gale, TV producer of ABC reality dating game show Bachelor
- Duration: November 28th – December 2nd, 2013
- How It Started: Stuck on an air plane on Thanksgiving Day, reality TV producer Elan Gale decided to kill some time by staging an elaborate mile-high feud with a fictional passenger named “Diane” and live-tweet the whole thing. Supported by convincing quotes and photographs of hand-written notes allegedly sent from “Diane,” Gale’s highly entertaining in-flight drama with a rude passenger quickly went viral in real-time.
- How It Unraveled: On the following Monday, Gale tweeted a photograph of an empty chair, an imagery that had become associated with Manti Te’o’s non-existence girlfriend, suggesting that Diane had been a fictional character all along.