Years from now, when telling my future grandchildren about 2015, I will speak at length about the treachery, fibs, toxic scoops, deceits, tall tales, viral hoaxes, half-truths, tomfoolery, unverified junk and fake news.
“What a time to be alive,” I will say. “You just didn’t know what to believe in 2015.”
Earlier this month, there was a piece in the Toronto Sun. It corrected a prank that fooled some media outlets. You can reverse engineer the original fake story from the Sun’s memorable first line: “No, in fact, a lotto winner from Alberta didn’t recently die after he gold-plated his testicles.”
The year in chicanery started in January, when the Twitter accounts of UPI and the New York Post were hacked. It now seems like an omen. One of the fakes tweets claimed the Pope had announced World War III was underway, a splendid metaphor for the war on truth that would flash and boom and pulverize reality over the next 12 months.
No, a teacher in Paris was not stabbed by a masked ISIS supporter, as was reported around the globe. No, there will be no sixth season of Breaking Bad. No, Twitter was not the target of a corporate buyout, a phony story that sent the company’s stock price on a coaster ride in July.
More? Oh, there was plenty more in The Year of Mendacity.
No, Mexican drug king Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman has not declared war on ISIS. No, an asteroid is not about to smash into Earth, as NASA reluctantly clarified in August after false rumours triggered panic.
Did a city council in North Carolina recently reject a new solar farm? Yes. But, no, not because locals feared it would “suck all the energy” from the sun. That level of idiocy is now reserved for Republican debates and candidates like Donald Trump, who claimed to have seen thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheer after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The war on truth got so bad that Poynter published a post titled, “6 tips to debunk fake news stories by yourself.” It did not help.
In 2015 we learned a “chocolate diet” is not an effective way to lose weight, as was previously reported. This was a bogus scientific study designed to show how easily bogus scientific studies can infiltrate the news cycle.
Not all the deception was so high-minded.
Recently, there were stories about an Australian man who was allegedly named “Phuc Dat Bich.” He even shared an image of his alleged passport to prove this phonetically vulgar appellation. It made the news until he admitted the whole thing was a fraud to make the media look foolish.
The sad thing is the media didn’t need help looking foolish in 2015.
It was a year in which NBC’s Brian Williams was suspended for lying about his experiences in Iraq and Rolling Stone retracted a feature about a campus rape that never was. The media fell for Rumblr, an alleged app that was going to let pugilists meet for street fights.
It was a year of uppercut corrections and roundhouse mea culpas.
It was also a year in which a university researcher was jailed for torquing the results in AIDS-vaccine experiments and a woman pretended to be black. Now that takes some gold-plated testicles.
Snopes, a website devoted to debunking misinformation, probably hired a bunch of new staffers to keep up with the onslaught of counterfeit claims, urban legends and con jobs. In the past week alone, it has fact-checked stories about Pope Francis sharing an Instagram selfie; a news story about cookie dough exploding during a shoplifting heist; a bit of faulty science about the amount of carbon dioxide volcanoes emit; a viral photograph of a baby deemed the darkest in the world that was actually a black clay doll.
What is real? What is fake? It was hard to tell this year.
Is Burger King going to abide by Sharia law? No, that Whopper was a whopper.
Yes, the lies were everywhere, aided and abetted by social media sharing and a lack of old media due diligence. It’s as if the world said “Phuc Dat” to the truth. Just show me another video of a pig saving a baby goat as I ride around on my “hoverboard,” which has wheels and does not hover.
Maybe I’ll market a time machine that’s just an aluminum box with a clock. Then I’d climb inside and visit 2016 and tell you it’s going to get better.
Of course, that would be a lie.