8 Viral Videos That Were Totally Fake


Sometimes a YouTube video is so mesmerizing that we rewatch it a dozen times in one sitting, blast it out to all of our friends, then rewatch the damn thing a dozen more times. This is "going viral," a natural order easily interrupted by iPhone-equipped wannabes vying for their internet moment and corporations looking to sneak past modern consumers' ad-adverse shields. It's no surprise that, from the viral video, the "viral hoax" was born.

Rather than being in the right place at the right time, the feat of a viral hoax video is to build buzz around a clip that claims to be found footage of an actual event and maintain secrecy until the truth unceremoniously pops the bubble. There are gems of this shady genre, videos that had the world watching and guessing until the truth came to light. Here are eight of the most notable times we were fooled by YouTube hoaxes.

"Golden Eagle Snatches Kid"

What we think we see: An eagle attempts to pick up a toddler in a Montreal park. This video caused a ruckus almost immediately when it was uploaded to YouTube on December 18, 2012.
What we're actually seeing:  Both the eagle and the child were created using 3D animation composited into real handheld footage. Sharp-eyed viewers were quick to discover a single frame of the video where part of the eagle's screen-left wing goes transparent and a moment right after the eagle lets go of the baby where the child defies gravity by hovering for a few frames before returning to the ground.
Explanation of hoax: Montreal's National Animation and Design Centre issued a statement outing the video as a group project by students Normand Archambault, Loïc Mireault, and Félix Marquis-Poulin for their bachelor's degree in 3D Animation and Digital Design class.

"girl get killed behind friends prank"

What we think we see: Video "evidence" from the 2009 civil court case Gilland vs. Sheri Lume. A masked man hiding and filming his invasion spooks "Rachel" enough to send her running outside where she is struck by a car. Allegedly, the man was a friend pulling a prank (thus the tape).
What we're actually seeing: An After Effects composite between multiple shots of actress Cindy Vela. One shot would be Cindy running into the street, another of her on top of the car, and finally one of her under the car stitched together using a computer.
Explanation of hoax: It's actually a short made-to-be-viral video by Project Greenlight Season 2 winner Kyle Rankin. Cindy Vela's Facebook page credits "R.Zane" for the special effects.

"Worst Twerk Fail EVER - Girl Catches Fire!"

What we think we see: In just one week of September 2013, over 9 million people viewed what they thought was a home twerking video. The twist was an epic fail: In the middle of handstand twerking against the door, the subject's roommate comes home and sends her flying into a table of candles that instantly sets her on fire.
What we're actually seeing: Stuntwoman Daphne Avalon does actually fall into a table covered with candles, but is already wearing a fire-protection rig under her pants on her right leg that can be quickly (and safely) lit off-screen.
Explanation of hoax: Amazingly, this was a Jimmy Kimmel Live! prank that became much more successful than the host or producers anticipated. The Monday after the video went viral, Kimmel had Avalon on the late-night show and revealed the "uncut" version of the video that reveals a pink-shirted Kimmel at the end.

"Kobe jumps over a speeding car (Aston Martin)"

What we think we see: Kobe Bryant clears a speeding Aston Martin in a single bound.
What we're actually seeing: Likely (it's never been divulged) another special effects situation that blends a jumping Bryant and a shot of a speeding car. The high contrast between the light and the dark-colored tracksuit makes it easier to mix the two shots and augment Kobe's overall height.  
Explanation of hoax: The video was produced to promote Nike's Hyperdunk line of shoes, though the closest Kobe has ever gotten to explaining is answering "How did you do that?" with "Hollywood, baby!"

"#ShellFAIL: Private Arctic Launch Party Goes Wrong"

What we think we see: At a party for Shell Oil Company executives and investors, an oil rig model that was meant to dispense drinks blasts an old woman in the face.
What we're actually seeing: A "found-footage" ad made up entirely of actors and volunteers. The oil rig model is a prop that does exactly what it was designed to do: spray an elderly woman in the face. The woman is actually Dorli Rainey, the octogenarian pepper-sprayed by police during the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Explanation of hoax: This video turned out to be a protest video produced to raise awareness of Shell's Arctic drilling by the "culture-jamming" activist group The Yes Men in association with Greenpeace and then-members of the Occupy movement.

"Snowboarder Girl Chased By Bear - I Was Singing Rihanna Work And Didn't Know It Was Behind Me!"

What we think we see: A snowboarder listening to Rihanna and filming herself with a selfie stick misses the fact that a bear is right behind her.
What we're actually seeing: The footage of the snowboarder is entirely real, but any pan over to her pursuer is composited Getty stock footage of a bear running in a river. The snow and fog trick our eyes into thinking it's legit.
Explanation of hoax: Publicity. This and the next three videos were created in 2014 or 2015 by the Australian visual-effects/production company The Woolshed Company.

"GoPro: Man Fights Off Great White Shark In Sydney Harbour"

What we think we see: A man dives into Sydney Harbour only to jump directly into the path of a great white shark. He swims to safety, encountering the shark a few times below the water line.
What we're actually seeing: The first shot of the shark is sourced nature footage. Splashing cuts mask the transitions to submerged GoPro footage. Fancy animation allows the swimmer to almost touch the great white as it swims by.
Explanation of hoax: Another Woolshed hoax

"Lightning almost strikes girl in Sydney!!! Boyfriend's reaction is priceless!!!!"

What we think we see: A group of Australian surfers heads down a rocky beach when lighting strikes and nearly hits a man's female companion, prompting the guy to hilariously blather on in surprise.
What we’re actually seeing: A well-choreographed piece with a computer-generated lighting strike cut in. For whatever reason, the video's entire soundtrack seems to have been created after the fact, including the voice of the man.
Explanation of hoaxes: Each of these Woolshed Company videos was part of a project called "The Viral Experiment" that explored the "social phenomena" of the internet (but probably got the company a few clients, too). As Woolshed managing director and co-founder Dave Christison said in an interview after the company came clean, "We set out to better understand exactly how to create short-form, highly shareable, snackable content that is capable of reaching worldwide mass audiences without the luxury of pricey media buys, ad campaigns, publicity strategies, or distribution deals." Answer: pretending to put people in harm's way.

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Dave Gonzales is a frequent contributor to Thrillist Entertainment and loves internet mysteries.