A story hit the news cycle earlier this week: “Texas Man Found Eating Teenage Boy In Haunted House Attraction.” Except, it wasn’t news. The story was completely, 100% fabricated — a piece of fiction seemingly manufactured to garner clicks, shares, and pageviews.
And that it did: I heard about it after my husband texted me from work. “It’s all over Facebook!” he said. “My coworker is freaking out!” Being the skeptical guy that he is, though, he quickly assuaged his coworker’s fears through a simple internet search. The story, less than a day old, had already been debunked by Snopes.
How did the “cannibalism inside a haunted house” fake out manage to deceive so many people? Well, for starters, the website—I won’t link back to it, you have Google—has a legit-sounding name, looks fairly convincing, and fails to include any sort of a disclaimer along the lines of, “Hey, every news story on this site is completely bogus, so maybe don’t take what you read seriously, okay?” Then there’s the actual picture that goes along with the news story, which includes a blurred-out, bloody bathtub, a haunted house so creepy-looking that anyone would be ill-advised to enter it, and a mug shot of the alleged perpetrator. A mug shot! There are no context clues from which to draw the conclusion “this is a joke.” Also, the article is devoid of punchlines.