30 Viral Fakes That Defined The 2010s

30 Viral Fakes That Defined The 2010s
Gif: Showtime/Gizmodo

The decade of the 2010s saw the rise of social media and the proliferation of digital tools that allow people to alter photos and videos. When you put those two forces together, you get a lot of fake images circulating. And these were the ones that helped define the past 10 years.

1) Shark on the freeway

If you spent any time on social media over the past 10 years, you probably saw this photo. The image was captured from the perspective of a driver’s seat. We see a shark on the highway. It looks too wild to be true. And that’s because it is.

The photo showed up during Hurricane Irene in 2011, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and virtually every major flooding event of the decade. But that “shark on the freeway” is 100 per cent fake.

The image became one of the most common fake photos of the decade, spreading on Facebook and Twitter almost any time there was heavy flooding in the U.S. As the decade progressed, more people got wise. But there was always a new group to fool.

The shark actually comes from a September 2005 issue of Africa Geographic called “Shark Detectives,” with photos by Thomas P. Peschak. The shark has been digitally inserted into a flooding scene.

Will this famous fake photo live to see the 2020s? We’ll find out soon enough.

2) Photoshopped Trump

President Donald Trump, the most corrupt politician in American history, is obviously obsessed with the image he projects. And his team will do anything to keep him happy, even if they have to use Photoshop to get there.

Back in January of this year, we wrote about the various ways that Trump’s reelection team had been altering photos of the president on Facebook and Instagram to make him appear thinner. On top of that, the photos also made his fingers appear longer. Seriously.

The Trump reelection team altered at least three photos on social media to make Trump look less slovenly. As you can see from the photo on the left, Trump’s team has made him look a lot less heavy than he is in real life, which is the unaltered photo on the right, taken by the official White House photographer and posted to Flickr.

And if you look closely, his finger is longer, something that Trump has been obsessed with for decades after a magazine writer in the 1980s said that Trump had small hands.

Just keep your eye on Trump’s finger…

Authoritarian figures throughout history have changed photos to make themselves look better, so it makes sense that Trump wouldn’t be any different.

It obviously doesn’t matter if the president is overweight, but for a guy who’s constantly screaming “fake news” at mainstream media organisations like CNN and the New York Times, it’s pretty funny that our president had to fake so many photos.

3) Fake hoverboard

In March of 2014, a mysterious video appeared online showing off something called the HUVr Tech brand hoverboard. Plenty of people got excited about what was sure to revolutionise transportation and the video racked up millions of views. But it all turned out to be a scam, as you can probably guess by now.

The weirdest thing about the video is that it featured people like Christopher Lloyd, who played Doc Brown in the Back to the Future series. And it wasn’t just Lloyd. Mark Cuban, Tony Hawk, Billy Zane, Moby, and Terrell Owens all appeared in the video, which seemed to lend it some credibility. Tony Hawk wouldn’t lie to us, would he?

The video was revealed to be a stunt for Funny or Die, but the goal seemed to be publicity for publicity’s sake. They weren’t raising money for any causes or trying to promote a different product. The goal was simply to go viral. But the people involved seemed to pretend like there was some higher purpose or something.

“If we inspired on person to get into the hover sciences, I consider that a victory,” Christopher Lloyd said in a follow-up video revealing the deception. “Here’s to hoverboards being actually real one day. Go! Do it! Make it happen! For all of us! God bless you.”

OK.

Later in the decade, Tony Hawk tried out a real hoverboard, but it was noisy as hell, hard to manoeuvre, and needed a special magnetic surface to work at all. But we’re still waiting on something closer to our dreams from Back to the Future: Part II.

Image: Underwood and Underwood

4) Teddy Roosevelt’s fake moose ride

History photos were incredibly popular in the 2010s, all thanks to the speed of delivery with services like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. But this photo of President Teddy Roosevelt, which we debunked back in 2013, is totally fake. And it wasn’t photoshopped recently. This fake photo was created back in 1912.

Even before the invention of computers, photographers were making fantastical photos for entertainment purposes. And while President Roosevelt was certainly a fan of the outdoors, he never rode a moose.

According to Heather Cole, curator of Harvard’s Theodore Roosevelt Collection, this image was created for the 1912 presidential election because Roosevelt was running under the Bull Moose Party ticket. The image was created by the photo firm Underwood and Underwood, who also showed the other presidential candidates riding animals. William Howard Taft, Roosevelt’s former vice president, was riding an elephant, the mascot for the Republicans, and Woodrow Wilson was riding a donkey, the mascot for the Democrats.

In the end, Wilson won the election with almost 42 per cent of the vote and Roosevelt, who had already served as president from 1901 to 1909, came in second with just 27 per cent of the vote. Taft, the incumbent in 2012 who had just served one term, only got 23 precent of the vote.

Gif: Source: Net 10

5) Mobile phone becomes a demon in the microwave

Does this video show a demon emerging from a mobile phone after it was placed into the microwave? No. But that didn’t stop it from going viral many time over the past decade.

The video was originally created by a prepaid wireless company called Net 10 and the entire premise was that other phone carriers were bad because they forced you to sign long contracts.

The video is completely computer-generated and you’ll just have to take our world for it. Don’t put your phone into the microwave to see what happens. You won’t see a demon, but you will get a nice fire like Jennifer Lawrence’s character in American Hustle.

6) Not the Northern Lights

The 2010s also saw plenty of amazing nature photos that weren’t quite what they seemed. Like the photo above, which went viral as the Northern Lights in Alaska. In reality, the photo was a panoramic image of the Orion Nebula, taken from the Hubble telescope.

The fake image was incredibly popular on social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter and dates back to at least 2009. But it’s totally fake.

7) The mobile phone from 1922 that wasn’t

This silent short film from 1922 called Eve’s Wireless is a very cool piece of history. But is it really the “world’s first mobile phone”? Not quite.

Every generation develops its own biases about images from the past. And in the case of this film from 1922, people of the 2010s can be forgiven for thinking that the tech they’re watching is a mobile phone. But it’s not. And even the reputable archivists at British Pathe were fooled.

This movie first popped up in 2011, before I joined Gizmodo as a writer. And as I wrote at the time, this film actually shows people using radio technology. The pair of women are listening to things that are being broadcast to them, but they have no ability to send a message back, as you’d expect with a mobile phone call.

8) Space junk not to scale

It really is littered up there. But not quite like this image would have you believe.

This image of space junk surrounding Earth has gone viral plenty of times over the past ten years, but with people writing things like “the image speaks for itself.”

The image is a computer rendering created by the European Space Agency in 2008, and as its website notes, it’s not to scale. ESA explains:

Note: The debris objects shown in the images are an artist’s impression based on actual density data. However, the debris objects are shown at an exaggerated size to make them visible at the scale shown.

That kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it? Those would be very big satellites if that was an honest depiction of our planet from space.

9) Reddit’s behind the scenes of National Geographic

It’s a terrifying sight, but it’s not real. This photo went viral back in 2015 with the title “Behind the scenes of National Geographic.” But the bear isn’t from the original photo.

One of the people in the photo confirmed via Twitter that it’s a fake image that created back in 2011 while the group was scouting film locations in Colorado. The bear is from a stock photo and was digitally added for this visual joke.

Sometimes fake photos that are shared between friends can pick up steam outside of the friend group. And without the necessary context, the entire internet can start believing that they’re really looking at a National Geographic photoshoot gone bad.

10) 1970s Oil Shock Picnic in America

Is this a group of Americans having a picnic on a major freeway in 1973? No. The photo is indeed taken during the oil crisis, but the back story isn’t quite what the internet would have you believe.

This photo went viral in 2014 and people had all kinds of explanations for what was actually happening. The real story is that the Netherlands introduced something called “Car-Free Sunday” in November of 1973, and the country’s roughly 3 million private cars were no longer on the road during those Sundays.

On Sunday, people would find alternative means of transportation, including bicycles, the bus, or simply walking. The photo was originally from the Netherlands National Archive, and while it’s an interesting shot, it’s not from the U.S., as many people might have learned from the internet.

11) Fake Marie Curie on a postage stamp

Have you seen the photo on the left, depicting pioneering scientist Marie Curie? Unfortunately, it’s actually a stage actress who played the scientist in the early 2000s. But that didn’t stop the photo from being used on postage stamps around the world.

Zambia, Togo, Republic of Guinea, and Mali have all used versions of the photo on the left to depict Marie Curie. The image was captured in 2001 by photographer Paul Schroder and actually shows actress Susan Marie Frontczak.

There were other postage stamp mix-ups in the 2010s, including a fake quote from the late Maya Angelou that appeared on a stamp from the U.S. Postal Service in 2015, presumably because USPS found the quote online.

12) “Socialist Venezuela” store shelves actually Texas

Back in 2015, the National Review ran an article by conservative columnist Michelle Malkin about socialism in Venezuela. The article included the photo above, implying that it showed empty store shelves in the South American country. The only problem? The photo is from a Walmart in Austin, Texas.

The article, titled “Ask Venezuelans How Sanders-Style Socialism Is Working Out for Them,” bragged that American store shelves were stocked with “too many different brands of deodorant and sneakers,” and sarcastically captioned the photo, “Venezuela’s vibrant economy.” But when disaster hits the U.S., you also get the photo above.

The photo was actually taken in the lead up to Hurricane Rita in 2005 by Jay Janner for the Austin-American Statesman newspaper, and presumably dirtied up by someone else on the internet.

The original caption read:

Preparing for Hurricane Rita, Maria Chavez of Austin looks for a loaf of bread Thursday in the empty shelves of a Wal-Mart at Interstate 35 and Slaughter Lane. The store was sold out.

How did the photo make its way to the National Review? That part is still unclear.

13) DIY Ebola cure

During 2014’s Ebola scare, plenty of Americans worried that they might come down with the deadly disease. Future president of the United States Donald Trump even warned that medical professionals who visited Africa shouldn’t be allowed back into the U.S.

But the most ridiculous thing to emerge from the Ebola scare may have been the fake cures that started to pop up online.

Ken Oftedal wrote a blog post for the conspiracy theory website Natural News titled “Treating Ebola with Homeopathy” (which was later removed) that included instructions for a DIY Ebola vaccine. Seriously.

“I hope you will not need to apply the information presented in this article, but if you do, it could save your life and that of a loved one,” Oftedal wrote.

Incredibly, the instructions for the Ebola vaccine included an “Ebola sample,” meaning that to create this vaccine you’d need to get the blood of someone who was already infected with Ebola.

What you need:

1. A face mask and gloves

2. Two bottles (50 ml up to 500 ml glass or plastic bottles) with caps

3. Clean water (mineral or tap water)

4. An Ebola sample: some spit or other disease product, such as blood, from a person infected with Ebola, or who is suspected sick with it.

Any small quantity will do, even a pinhead.

5. An alcoholic liquid, such as whisky, brandy, rum, etc.

6. Half an hour of your time.

Commercially-produced Ebola vaccines have become incredibly good over the past decade, but needless to say, this DIY method of creating an Ebola vaccine is not something you should try at home.

14) Dinesh D’Souza’s fake photo of Hillary Clinton

The 2016 presidential election brought plenty of fake photos to our screens. But one of the weirdest was perhaps this photo of Hillary Clinton, distributed by far right propagandist Dinesh D’Souza.

The photo on the left shows the former Secretary of State and if you “look closely,” as D’Souza implores us to do, you can see a Confederate flag. But the flag was digitally added by someone who presumably wants to make Clinton look bad. The original photo was published by Life magazine in 1969, without the Confederate flag, of course.

D’Souza went to prison in 2014 after pleading guilty to making illegal campaign contributions. D’Souza is best known for creating anti-Obama propaganda and even claims that the Nazis of the 1940s were a left-wing organisation, something that is so profoundly ahistorical it’s difficult to know where to even begin.

There were plenty of fake photos featuring Hillary Clinton in the lead up to the 2016, but this one feels like the most era-defining of them all. Especially since D’Souza got precisely what he wanted after Donald Trump won. President Trump pardoned D’Souza in 2018.

15) Computer of the future fakery

In the early 2010s, this image went viral as the home computer of the future, from 1954. But it’s not a real prediction from the RAND Corporation. In reality, the image is a photoshop that was made for a contest hosted by the website Fark back in 2004.

There were lots of predictions for the future from the 1950s that seem pretty outlandish today. But this wasn’t one of them.

16) Iranian state TV posts video game footage as real ISIS battle

Video game graphics got really good in the 2010s. So good, in fact, that they started to be used for propaganda purposes, knowingly or unknowingly.

That’s what happened with the footage above, which was used by Iranian state TV to depict a battle against ISIS. If you take a look at the video closely you’ll see that an icon pops up in both the Iranian video and the video game footage at the bottom of the screen. The icon appears when you’ve successfully executed a headshot in the game Medal of Honour.

The video used by Iranian state TV appears identical to gameplay footage posted to YouTube in 2012.

This wasn’t the only time that propagandists used video games. Russia’s Ministry of Defence also released video game footage to “prove” that the US was helping ISIS. But we can probably expect plenty more of these video game mix-ups in the future. Graphics are only getting better with every passing day.

17) Mike Tyson in 1995 and the smartphone time traveller

Is that a time traveller with a smartphone in the audience watching Mike Tyson, one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time? That’s what people were claiming in 2016, when the footage went viral. But there’s a perfectly simple explanation that doesn’t involve breaking the laws of physics.

There were actually a bunch of cameras in the mid-1990s that looked like the one from that fight, whether it’s the Casio QV-10A, an early digital camera, or the Logitech Fotoman, an initially greyscale digital camera first introduced in 1991.

It would certainly be a comforting thought if time travellers were indeed going back to the 1990s to alter history so that we might live in a better world today, especially since we know Donald Trump was buddies with Mike Tyson and was probably hanging around. Trump had plenty of other shady things going on in the mid-90s that should have been documented to keep him from rising to power.

But this particular video isn’t proof of time travel, sadly enough.

18) ABC’s fake Syria video

ABC News anchor Tom Llamas and foreign correspondent Ian Pannell presented some stunning video from Syria in October of 2019, which appeared to show a Turkish attack in northern Syria against Kurdish civilians. And while Turkish-aligned troops did commit war crimes as they pushed into Syria with President Trump’s blessing, this particular video were fake.

“This video, obtained by ABC News, appears to show the fury of the Turkish attack on the border town of Tal Abyad two nights ago,” Pannell said during the broadcast.

The explosions in the video were actually from a video titled, “Knob Creek night shoot 2017.” Knob Creek Gun Range, a facility in the town of West Point, Kentucky, hosts a regular event called the “Military Gun Shoot & Military Gun Show.”

“We’ve taken down video that aired on ‘World News Tonight Sunday’ and ‘Good Morning America’ this morning that appeared to be from the Syrian border immediately after questions were raised about its accuracy. ABC News regrets the error,” an ABC News spokesperson told Gizmodo via email.

But ABC News never did explain how the video appeared on their broadcast.

19) Amazon mothership

Amazon is taking over the world so quickly, that it’s sometimes difficult to tell when rumours about the tech giant’s plans are real or a joke. And that’s precisely what happened earlier this year when this video of an Amazon “mothership” started going viral.

Yes, Amazon is working on drone technology, despite being way behind Google when it comes to actually getting something off the ground. But this video was just a concept done with computer graphics.

20) Flooded Statue of Liberty

Much like the shark on the flooded freeway, another photo that popped up again and again during the 2010s was the Statue of Liberty being inundated by flood waters.

Superstorm Sandy created some appalling images, but this photo isn’t from that storm. It’s from the Hollywood movie, Day After Tomorrow, which was released in 2004.

And while Day After Tomorrow is proving much more accurate than we thought as a predictor of climate change, the base of the Statue of Liberty isn’t under water. Yet.

21) Kim Jong Un’s fake smile on Russian TV

In June of 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. But something weird happened to photos of the meeting.

The photo posted to Twitter by Russia’s Foreign Ministry was wildly different than the photo that was played on “News of the Week” with Dmitry Kiselyov on Russia-1, a popular TV news channel.

The video from the Russian-language show was even made available on YouTube, and you can see the clip excerpted here. Believe it or not, the TV channel claimed that they didn’t alter the photo of Kim.

“They always photograph at high shutter speed. So you get various phases of facial expressions,” Kiselyov said, trying to explain why the photo they aired looked so weird.

Needless to say, that’s not how photography works. At all. But good effort, guys. This one is fake as hell.

22) Fake Justin Bieber eating a burrito

Some fake photos that go viral are simply miscaptioned or taken out of context. But there are other times when people deliberately set out to perpetrate a hoax. That’s precisely what happened with fake Justin Bieber photos.

Everyone from Cosmopolitan to Vanity Fair to the BBC published the Justin Bieber photo above, but the people who took the photo revealed that it was all a big joke.

The group, known as the Yes Theory, even posted a YouTube video explaining how they did it, and it was no small enterprise. The pranksters flew a lookalike in from Canada down to Los Angeles and first tried a different prank that didn’t go viral.

But once they had an idea to make it look like Justin Bieber didn’t know how to eat a burrito, it took off.

What was the point? Virality. Which is a goal unto itself in the 2010s, and will probably live on well into the next decade.

23) Economy Class flying in the good old days

People love to share photos of what it was like to fly back in the “good old days” of air travel. And while flying was indeed a more luxurious experience for those who could afford it back in the 1960s, the photo above is somewhat misleading. Mostly because the photo doesn’t show a real aeroplane, it was just a mock-up produced by Boeing for what the 747 could have looked like.

Popular Twitter “history” accounts like HistoryInPics and OldPicsArchive helped spread this photo and others like it.

Yes, air travel was much more glamorous in the 1950s and 1960s, but it was also much more expensive and much more discriminatory. So while you’re free to get angry about the shitty treatment you get as a customer on America’s airlines in the year 2019, it wasn’t necessarily as great in the 1960s as the internet would have you believe.

24) Fake Buddha

Is this really a Buddha carved into a tall rock formation at the Ngyen Khag Taktsang Monastery in China? No. But it’s a pretty convincing computer alteration!

Gizmodo spoke with the person behind these fake images, who goes by the name handle Archistophanes on Twitter, back in 2014. The artist is part of an art collective known as Reality Cues, and whose Graffiti Lab project tries to make alterations that are so incredible people can’t help but share them.

Who, after all, would fake something so beautiful? The internet, of course. That’s who.

25) Fake adorable bunny

As the world gets more and more stressful, we all have our social media coping mechanisms. Sometimes, an adorable dog or cat is just the thing we need to feel better about the world. But sometimes, that cute furry creature isn’t real at all.

The bunny that you see above is completely fake. Just like so many other cute furball accounts that try to pass off Etsy and Weibo creations as real (and suspiciously docile) woodland animals.

That’s not to say that everything that’s cute needs to be real. We will, after all, stand by Baby Yoda forever. But it’s better to know what you’re looking at when the internet’s tricksters are involved.

26) Paper aeroplane fakery

When the Twitter account SciencePorn first posted this video of a paper aeroplane suspended by two fans in 2016, it spread quickly with the account’s 1.8 million followers. But SciencePorn didn’t explain the context. It was nothing but an April Fools’ Day video by a group on YouTube.

Accounts like HistoryPorn and SciencePorn proliferated during the 2010s as “gee whiz” examples of things that were too amazing to check.

The April Fools’ video was originally posted in 2011 by a channel called Sick Science, so it’s a pretty safe bet that the SciencePorn account knew it was fake in 2016, but we’ll never know for sure. These accounts operate to capture as much attention as possible before they’re monetized and try to sell you things. And it’s a profitable business if you can get it—just not the most trustworthy.

27) “Neo-Nazi” haircut guy accidentally stabs himself, blames black guy

Joshua Witt, a 26-year-old from Colorado, posted some photos to Facebook in August of 2017 where he said that he was stabbed by a black guy. Witt said that it was because the black guy didn’t like his “neo-Nazi” haircut.

“Soooooooo apparently I look like a neo-Nazi and got stabbed for it,” Witt wrote in a post to Facebook. “Luckily I put my hands up to stop it so he only stabbed my hand… please keep in mind there was no conversation between me and this dude I was literally just getting out of my car.”

It turned out that Witt accidentally cut himself with a knife and just blamed it on black people, according to the Sheridan, Colorado police department. Amazingly, the cops figured it out because he Witt had just purchased a knife at a nearby store and was captured on security footage just minutes before the “attack.”

28) Vladimir Putin shows Oliver Stone fake footage

Oliver Stone produced a documentary in 2017 called The Putin Interviews. It was a strange piece of propaganda that failed to ask any serious questions of the Russian leader. The documentary was even shown on state-run TV, if that tells you how favourable it was to Putin.

The weirdest part of the documentary is when President Putin pulls out his phone to show Russian forces fighting ISIS. The video is actually of U.S. forces battling Taliban fighters in Afghanistan in 2009.

The original video is hosted on Military.com, which is actually from 2009.

You can watch our side-by side of the two films here. The video is fairly graphic and shows people being killed in black and white.

When Stone was confronted with the fact that the video wasn’t what Putin said it was, Stone took Putin’s word. “Why would he fake it?” Stone asked credulously of the authoritarian ruler.

Why? Because strongmen will do anything if they can get away with it. And when you’re transparently making a puff piece on Putin, the Russian president knows that he can get away with anything.

29) Naked hippies going to Woodstock

History-focused Twitter accounts would often share pictures of questionable history. In this case, a photo went viral showing what was supposed to be a naked hippie hitching a ride to Woodstock in 1969. The real story behind the photo? It was an ad campaign for a clothing company.

Landlubber Clothing Company ran an entire series of magazine ads in the 1970s featuring naked people with the tagline, “Nothing is better than Landlubber Clothes.”

The clothing company created a successful side business selling posters of their naked models, which is perhaps why this photo was able to circulate without the Landlubber logo. But it’s not from 1969 and has nothing to do with Woodstock.

30) Governor of Texas shares fake antifa quote

The internet is awash in fake quotes. There are fake quotes from Albert Einstein, Harriet Tubman, Walt Disney, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and Teddy Roosevelt. And sometimes politicians get duped in the process.

In 2018, Texas Governor Greg Abbott shared a fake quote allegedly from Winston Churchill that more or less sums up the Trump era. The quote: “The fascists of the future will call themselves anti-fascists.” The only problem is that Churchill never said it.

In true internet fashion, people started tweeting their own ridiculous quotes attributed to famous figures, poking fun at Abbott’s mix-up in the process.

Was Abbott embarrassed after people pointed out that he was wrong? Far from it. The Republican governor did what any Trump supporter does in the 2010s: he doubled down.

“What I tweeted was a sentiment that I had, and that is antifa is dangerous to society and antifa is the antithesis of safety and security and they are antagonists to law enforcement as well as to other people,” Abbot said.

“It was irrelevant to me who may or may not have said that in the past. I didn’t want to be accused of plagiarism for saying it. If no one else said it, attribute the quote to me because it’s what I believe in.”

Well, here you go. The 2010s was quite a decade for fakes. And the 2020s will almost certainly be even worse.