Can You Identify Fake News? Some of the Most Ridiculous Stories From Arizona

Donald Trump has continued to attack the media, labeling major networks 'fake news' throughout his campaign and presidency.

There's nothing "new" about fake news — slaveholders spread rumors that African-Americans were spontaneously turning white, Nazis printed children books that equated Jewish people to poisonous mushrooms, and The Onion tricked journalists at the Korea Times into thinking North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was named the “Sexiest Man Alive.”

But in the "everyone can blog" age of media, fake news has turned into an entirely new being.

Sword and shield in hand, the researchers at University of Arizona attempted to tame, or at least understand, this three-headed beast.

In their new study, researchers from the James E. Rogers College of Law dismantled fake news and identified it into four categories — satire, hoax, propaganda, and trolling. In doing so, they also broke down the incentives of why this fake news was created.

As always, a "follow the money" technique was crucial in debunking these far fetched tales.

click to enlarge Researchers at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law categorized fake news and its incentives. - COURTESY OF UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
Researchers at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law categorized fake news and its incentives.
Courtesy of University of Arizona
For example, why someone would make up that a 15-year-old Phoenix boy was charged with "self-rape" after his mother caught him masturbating? Well, if that someone is Phoenix local Paul Horner, then clicks on stories like this can earn him $10,000 a month through companies like AdSense.

Companies like Facebook and Google are trying to stem this by not allowing fake news to use their advertising platforms. The UA researchers listed legal ramifications among their suggestions for ending fake news.

While money and political gain are often the root of the problem there is a still a larger social understanding at play, research fellow Mark Verstrate said.

“I think we need to find the social context of why this is happening rather than trying to use technology to solve an inherently social issue.”

Until we can fully grasp the forces of evil behind fake news we can at least laugh at some of the more ridiculous stories to come out of Arizona.

Last year, the website Thug Life Videos accused a Scottsdale woman of cutting off her partner's penis after he wouldn't make eye contact with her during sex. To add insult to injury, the website included an edited mugshot of a cross-eyed woman from Idaho to accompany the story.

Borrowing a few details from '90s tabloid Weekly World News, a story of a heartbroken Arizona widower made the rounds on the internet when a picture of his deceased wife encased in a glass coffee table escalated this story from sad to horrifying. Of course, there were quite a few holes in the story, from the mummification of the corpse to the coffee table's striking similarity to a sideways fish tank.

Arizona was also included in a story about three states mandating a pet limit. Last May, the satirical website Associated Media Coverage reported that Arizona, along with Texas and Missouri, had signed an ordinance restricting residents to two pets and demanding an additional pets be taken to the Humane Society. The report was complete with data about abandoned pet rates "sky-rocketing" in the three states. 

Arizona is, of course, known as a UFO and alien hot spot after the Phoenix Lights incident in 1997 — and again in 2007 — so it was no surprise the Grand Canyon state was chosen for the setting of a NASA conspiracy theory. The story goes that the Navajos fooled the government by placing strange messages on their land and convincing government officials that NASA should take the messages to the moon. Some variations of the story even suggest the Navajos tricked government officials into paying them to translate these cryptic messages.

Lastly, the story that never seems to die: Is John McCain really a war hero? Mesa bus driver Craig Willbanks is part of the national movement insistent on taking down McCain and proving he is a war criminal and not a war hero. Even President Donald Trump has questioned this heroism. But some have gone as far as saying the long-time senator not only admitted to being a war criminal, but was pardoned by President Nixon.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lindsay Moore