Hoaxes happen, but the media needs to stop falling for them, experts say

Screen grab from the twerk fail video, which was revealed as a hoax.

Screen grab from the twerk fail video, which was revealed as a hoax.

Kate Schwass-Bueckert, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:34 PM ET

We gasped when the twerker caught on fire.

We applauded when one airplane passenger sent a glass of wine and a note to an irate woman on his flight, telling her to calm down.

We felt bad for the waitress who didn't get a tip because she is gay.

And then we found out we'd been duped.

"Hoaxes have been with journalism from Day One," Stephen Ward, the director of the school of journalism and communication at the University of Oregon, said in an interview.

But in the age of Twitter, fewer people in the newsroom, and a growing number of websites vying for readers with attention-grabbing headlines and cute kitten videos, are journalists more vulnerable to fall for hoaxes?

Absolutely, Ward said.

When media outlets try to be first to the web with a story and copy websites that are more interested in hits than quality reporting, "they destroy the one thing that makes them different," that readers can "depend" on real journalists, he said.

While hoaxes may be as old as journalism itself, Ross Howard, a journalism instructor at B.C.'s Langara College, agrees "getting it right is more important than getting it first."

"So-called citizen journalism, blogs and other social media too often drive mainstream media ... to compete with being first, and they rush reputation-killing stuff onto air (and) into print," Howard said in an email.

"It is a fool's game, squandering the (main stream media's) greatest -- only? -- asset, credibility, just to play in a kid's -- journalistic amateurs' -- league."

Some of the hoaxes we fell for this year

That girl was on fire (not)

Dubbed the Worst Twerk Fail EVER, a girl is seen performing the dance move while doing a handstand against a door when another girl walks in, knocking her over onto a table with candles. The girl's leg caught on fire, as did the story about this YouTube video. But it turned out it was all shot for the late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Hey Diane in 7A: Calm down, have some wine

When TV producer Elan Gale tweeted about how he sent a glass of wine and a note to an irate woman named Diane who was on his flight just before American Thanksgiving, thousands of people started following him on Twitter. The exchange escalated to Gale being slapped and his mom giving Diane the middle finger in a photo. But a few days later, Gale admitted Diane didn't exist and he was just having some fun.

Christmas gifts stolen after crash

A Mississauga, Ont., man claimed a bag of expensive presents he had just bought for his children was missing after getting into an accident in a snowstorm. The man's daughter then wrote an emergency letter to Santa. Police, however, have now charged the father with mischief in the case.

Don't pass out on a sidewalk in India

A photo began circulating in June showing a snake had eaten a drunk man in India after he passed out on the sidewalk in front of a liquor store (or during flooding if you read that version, or maybe you heard about the woman in South Africa who became the snake's meal). But the man-eating snake theory was quickly debunked after it was revealed the photo has been around since at least Sept. 2012. It is still unclear, however, what the snake did eat.

Celebrities killed off on Twitter

There are always tweets that a certain celebrity has died, only to be corrected an hour or so later. This year, we saw, among others Cher (thanks to the hashtag #NowThatchersDead for Margaret Thatcher being read as #NowThatChersDead), Kickass star Chloe Grace Moretz, Miley Cyrus, Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman (who people thought was Nelson Mandela) killed off. But in a bizarre twist, some people didn't believe actor Paul Walker was killed in a car crash, instead saying his death on a Sunday couldn't be true because people had been incorrectly tweeting he had died the day before. But it was later revealed those tweets claiming there had been tweets about Walker's death on the Saturday were the actual hoax (confused yet?) and sadly, Walker did die in a fiery crash.

Don't knockout granny

A video of 93-year-old Gladys Bennett of St. Louis, Mo., pulling out a handgun and shooting a man who tried to attack her in the Knockout Game started making the rounds in November. The "game" has received a lot of media attention this year, and people on Twitter, blogs and the website NationalReport.net (where the story first ran) applauded the elderly woman for her actions. But police have said Bennett does not exist and the story did not happen.

Lesbian waitress doesn't get a tip

When server Dayna Morales posted a photo of a receipt on Facebook with no tip, but a note from a diner saying, "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle," people were irate. This was the second time a gay server had been stiffed on a tip -- the other was a man in Kansas. The only problem was the Kansas server's story was legit, Morales' was not. The family Morales claimed wrote the note told NBC news they didn't write the note and they did leave her a tip -- an $18 tip, which is above the 15% most people leave behind.


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