The internet has always been filled with fake images, but in 2021 the were too many fakes to count. Fake teeth, fake protests, and fake movie posters top the list of viral deceptions we spotted this year. Though there is way too much misinformation to summarize here — especially about the covid-19 health crisis — let’s take a look at just nine of the phony photos, videos, and gifs that went viral in 2021.
TikTokers Burning Snow to Prove It’s Fake
Amid the snowstorms at the start of 2021, videos of people burning snow to “prove” that it’s actually fake started go viral TikTok and Twitter. Needless to say, the snow was real and not planted by Bill Gates as part of an environmentalist conspiracy. And it’s not just Bill Gates. Some conspiracists believe that China was in on the whole thing, sending fake snow to the U.S. in an effort to delude Americans that climate change is real and make Ted Cruz look bad.
The viral videos actually showed a perfectly normal chemical reaction. But that didn’t stop these videos from racking up millions of views, though a large part of that viewership was probably less gullible people marveling at foolishness.
“No water, no dripping, no nothing,” one woman explains in a recent TikTok video that went viral after being re-uploaded to Twitter to mock her.
The secret behind the “burning” snow videos is simple sublimation. When the flame hits the packed snow, solid water sometimes turns directly into vapour, skipping its liquid stage.
‘Roundmeal’ the Macaroni and Beef Product
Have you seen that photo of a product called “Roundmeal,” the “protein-blasted” macaroni and beef meal? The image has made the rounds on Twitter and Reddit, with people expressing both their disgust and delight at this weird food. But it was actually fake.
The product, made by a fake company called Henton’s, includes helpful instructions on “how to do it,” as you can see in the expertly photoshopped image above. Step 1: boil it in the bag. Step 2: open and enjoy. The product “serves three men.” There’s even a promotion that says customers can win a visit from Davis. Who’s Davis? That part isn’t clear, but his speech bubble says “I’ll come to you.”
The image was actually created by Alan Wagner, a video artist from Los Angeles who tweets under the name @truewagner. Wagner has made plenty of other fakes before, including “Child with small telescope” and “Obama is back in a BIG way.”
Dan Crenshaw’s Eventful Fourth of July Party
Back in July, Rep. Dan Crenshaw threw a party for Independence Day. An alleged image from the ad started making the rounds on social media sites like Twitter. But the graphic was actually photoshopped, however slightly.
The original video from Rep. Crenshaw, which is available on Vimeo, includes a segment where the words “Dan’s First Annual” appear behind the congressman. Crenshaw’s head slightly obscures the letter “R” in the word “first,” while his torso obscures the middle “NU” in the word “annual.” Some anonymous photoshopper took the politician and moved him up a bit in the image to cover even more of the letters behind him, making it look like it declared “Dan’s First Anal.”
One might wonder why they even went through all the effort, until one remembers “oh, this is the internet.”
The Cuba Communism ‘Protest’
Did you see this photo of an enormous march in Havana, Cuba earlier this year? It was circulating on right-wing social media channels as proof that the Cuban people are sick and tired of the Communist government. But the photo is actually a few years old. And, ironically, it’s a rally where the participants are decidedly pro-Communist.
Matt Couch, a peddler of disinformation associated with a website called The DC Patriot, helped spread the photo across his social media channels. But in reality, this photo, which is available through Getty Images, was taken on May 1, 2018 in Havana. The people are marching to Revolution Square and they’re celebrating the Cuban Revolution that installed Fidel Castro as leader in 1959. Castro died in 2016 of natural causes, much to the dismay of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Couch has since been suspended from Twitter.
The Pro-Masturbation Flyer
Did you see a flyer this year claiming anytime you think about vaping maybe you should masturbate instead? It went viral on social media thanks to right-wing commentators like Erick Erickson who say it’s part of a federal government program being unleashed in U.S. schools. But the flyer is completely fake.
“A friend passed this along. These were hanging in the bathrooms at a local public school. ‘The Real Cost’ is a project of the federal government,” Erickson tweeted on Monday.
The fake flyer reads, “Pleasure yourself with nicotine? Try masturbation instead! Masturbation is a safe and healthy alternative to vaping as a solution to relieve stress. Try it by yourself or with a friend.” It includes the logo of The Real Cost, an anti-tobacco initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Strangely, this wasn’t even a new fake when it went viral in 2020. As KMOV4 reported back in February of 2020, the original flyer was created by a high school student in Missouri. The kid placed a couple of his photoshopped posters in the bathroom. Photos of the flyers went viral in 2020 on conservative social media, with people indignant that the government would promote masturbation. History keeps repeating itself, apparently.
The Omicron Variant Movie From 1963
Did you see a movie poster for a 1963 sci-fi film called The Omicron Variant? The poster spread on social media and people wondered if the movie predicted our current covid-19 crisis. The only problem is that it’s a fake movie poster for a film that never existed.
As the AFP pointed out, creator of the poster, Becky Cheatle, claimed credit for the photoshopped work and assured everyone it was just a joke. Cheatle didn’t mean to deceive anyone, but once an image like that gets stripped of context, the internet can speedily work its misinformation magic.
Yes, there really was a movie in 1963 just called Omicron, but it wasn’t about a pandemic. It was about aliens.
The Impressive Human Tooth
Is this a beautiful piece of art carved from a tooth? Not quite. A cropped version of this image made the rounds on social media this year, with reposters claiming that it showed an intricate carving of the Colliseum made out of a human tooth. Not quite.
FEMA ‘Requiring’ Covid-19 Vaccinations From Tornado Victims
When tornadoes swept through the U.S. this month, entire towns were decimated. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency helped people get emergency shelter, but an article went viral claiming people needed to be vaccinated against covid-19 to receive any assistance. But the claim was nonsense.
The article, published by a fake news site called Best News Here and circulated on social media platforms like Twitter, claimed that “the Department of Homeland Security has empowered FEMA to withhold disaster relief until persons declare their vaccination status, supply proof of vaccination, or submit to mandatory shots.”
The claim was fake and debunked by the AFP news outlet, which spoke with FEMA about the absurd article.
“The premise is false,” FEMA spokeswoman Jaclyn Rothenberg told AFP. “Vaccination status does not determine whether or not survivors receive supplies and support.”
And after that, all the fake stuff vanished and now everything on the internet is true. Just kidding. We’ll see you next year.