Once upon a time, America had grand conspiracy theories: Watergate, the JFK shooting, the Illuminati. Now, we have Twitter hoaxes: the Pace Foods employee gone rogue; the dramatic and utterly false bombing of the White House; and Thanksgiving weekend's glorious #TeamElan and Diane in #7A thing, which, it emerged Tuesday, was utterly faked.
It's hard to know what to believe on the Internet anymore, but if 2013 taught us one thing, it's that Twitter is no more reliable a news source than it was in 2012. So sit back, and enjoy five of the year's best Twitter hoaxes.
1. Thanksgiving Prank Fools The Entire Internet
A lot of travelers were left disappointed this Thanksgiving after a huge storm blew in and halted a ton of flights. Elan Gale, producer of The Bachelor and its spin-offs, spoke for them all when he furiously live-tweeted an exchange he had with Diane, a fellow passenger on his flight. Gale said that Diane insulted a ton of airport staff, and thought that her Thanksgiving was more important than everybody else's. It pissed off Gale and, as the story gained popularity, most of Twitter.
Gale sent Diane drinks and notes on the flight asking her to "stop talking." When Diane didn't take this well, he charmingly told her to "eat my dick." Diane slapped Gale, airport staff restrained her, and the Internet rejoiced. Gale Tweeted repeatedly about the importance of being kind on Thanksgiving, and the incident prompted a slew of articles about human decency, sexism, and live-tweeting. Many wondered what Diane's side of the story was. One problem: There was no Diane. On Dec. 3, Gale Tweeted:
Later, a Twitter user asked Gale directly if he'd faked the feud, and he replied "Yes."
The whole thing is even weirder considering that Gale had spent the last few days Tweeting angrily about how the entire Internet wasn't giving him a pat on the back for harassing someone.
2. One Direction Inspires a Slew Of Hoaxes, Mostly Misspelt
Wherever tween heartthrobs One Direction go, Twitter hoaxes follow. One week in August, #RIPOneDirection trended almost constantly on Twitter, which was alarming — but don't worry, the tweens are just kidding around! RIP was apparently an acronym for Really Inspiring People.
In August, United Kingdom cable network Channel 4 ran a documentary about "crazy" One Direction fans. Channel 4 wasn't exaggerating: after it aired, thousands of One Directioners claimed that over 100 of their flock, named "Larry Shippers," had killed themselves because the documentary had portrayed them badly.
Even the actual band members were concerned.
It was not true. Not even a little bit.
And in September, this happened.
At another point this year, band member Niall had to confirm that his girlfriend was not, in fact, dead, as One Direction fans had widely claimed via Twitter. (As the girl in question, Holly Scally, also pointed out on Twitter, she was also not Niall's girlfriend.) Details, details.
3. Campbell Soup Is Mortified, Apparently On Purpose
This one is bizarre. So, Campbell Soup Company owns a salsa brand called Pace Foods. A comedian named Kyle Kinane began Tweeting at @Pace_Foods on Dec. 1, in response to a controversial TV ad about masculinity that the salsa brand had ran, and got some bizarre replies.
Then Miles disappeared — along with his colleague Eric who'd also been replying from the Pace Twitter account — and was replaced by some called Sharon.
The comedian, Kinane, was pretty sure he'd gotten Miles and Eric fired.
The whole thing was described as an absolute PR travesty for Pace Foods, and Campbell Soup to boot. And then it turned out that Kinane had been duped by another comedian, Randy Lietke. Hang on ... what?
Poor Campbell Soup had to wade into the arena and get everybody to settle down.
Bet you never thought the words "Campbell's soup" and "Twitter hoax" would be used in the same sentence...
4. Someone Hacks Associated Press, Jokes About Bombs
Hey, remember that hilarious time that somebody hacked the Twitter account of the Associated Press — a.k.a. one of the most respected breaking-news sources in America — and kidded that bombs had gone off in the White House, injuring the President? Lolz.
The Tweet was sent out in April this year, and scared the shit out of the country. You know what happens after everybody thinks that bombs have hit the White House? Well, the stock exchange fell, and the market lost $200 billion freakin' dollars. (They bounced back later in the day, but even so.)
The Syrian Electronic Army, which later hacked Obama's Twitter account to publicize a violent YouTube video, claimed responsibility: “The Obama tweet was an expression of our outrage with US media. The tweet was a bolt from the blue for the White House. We completely achieved our objectives – the shares of US media fell temporarily."
Obama wasn't the only major political leader to fall victim of a Twitter hoax. An account named "@HeadlineNews" was set up to resemble the account "@BreakingNews" — a legitimate handle that Tweets out the latest headlines as they come in — and when reports started coming in about November's LAX shooting, @HeadlineNews sent out the following Tweet.
Though most news sources ignored the Tweet, prominent Canadian paper the Globe and Mail reported that Michael Hayden was potentially fatally injured. Later, the editor called the mistake "embarrassing."
5. Beloved Twitter Robot Was All A Lie
Meet @Horse_Ebooks. The account has more than 200,000 followers, and was a cult favorite for the quality (well, lack thereof) of its nonsensical Tweets.
Until late September, the account Tweeted constantly and brilliantly. Everybody believed @Horse_Ebooks was a spam-robot account that was designed to elude Twitter's spam barriers, and promote e-books about horses. Which it sort of did.
And then, in September, it all fell apart. The New Yorker revealed that the account was the work of two real-life human beings, who set up the account as, er, an art piece. They then stopped Tweeting, and the account was left to rot.
So, I think we can say we've all learned a valuable lesson this year: don't believe everything you read on Twitter, and do not cross One Direction fans.