Anatomy of a Hoax

Questions, speculations & updates on the techniques and nature of media fakery

Re: Anatomy of a Hoax

Postby SacredCowSlayer on October 18th, 2016, 3:53 pm

After a very short time digging for the origination of, it would appear to be a psychotic experiment run by none other than the journalism department at Northwestern University in conjunction with an entity known as Knight Lab.

An article on this from July 26, 2016 may be viewed here: ... e-builder/

Interesting little project they have going.
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Re: Anatomy of a Hoax

Postby hoi.polloi on October 18th, 2016, 4:20 pm

Very interesting. We should keep this article, in its entirety:

What happened when Gun Memorial let anyone contribute directly to victim profiles
Ideas | July 26, 2016
Posted by Steve Tarzia 0 Comments

If you’re reporting local or niche news, there’s a good chance that your audience collectively knows more about the story than you do. That’s especially true for us at Gun Memorial, a small publication with a nationwide mission of covering every American who is shot dead. In our latest, mostly successful, experiment, we let readers add to our stories without editor intervention. This article shares some lessons from that experience.

Asking for reader contributions

A large fraction of Gun Memorial’s traffic comes from “organic search” and many of those people are friends and family who are trying to follow the news on their recently-deceased loved one. These are exactly the kinds of people that reporters try to interview for the “friends and family mourn” articles sometimes written a day or two after a homicide.

Rather than do real interviews, we introduced a “profile builder” at the bottom of each victim’s page. It is designed to efficiently gather personal and biographical factoids from our readers.

tagging-screenshot.png’s Profile Builder enables readers to contribute to a page with minimal friction. Vandalism has been minimal and prevented by allowing any reader to delete an answer.

Each of the gray-boxed phrases is a response from an anonymous reader and in this article we call each of these phrases an “answer.” Of the six categories of information we are requesting, five are pretty straightforward and factual. The exception is “personality,” which is very subjective, and I’ll talk more about that later.

Anyone can visit a page and anonymously change a profile; there is no registration or login and that should encourage participation. We prevent vandalism and misinformation using a simple, anonymous moderation system; readers can either “like” or “delete” others’ answers. The number of likes is shown in green next to the “thumbs up” icon. On the other hand, an answer is removed from the page if any single reader chooses to “delete” it. Thus, a vandal’s work is very easily removed by anyone who later visits.

How readers contributed

In the first 20 days since the profile builder launched June 30, 2,364 answers were posted, 1,744 likes were recorded, and 249 answers were deleted, including 72 which were deleted by the same person who posted it (presumably as a correction.) For reference, in the same time period we had 339,000 pageviews from 45,000 sessions, and our popular “light a candle” feature was used 14,332 times.

Gathering about 100 little bits of new information each day is pretty significant for us, but we need to evaluate the quality of these posts before calling it a success. I scanned through all the answers and drew a few conclusions:

Overall, the answers were very effective at humanizing our stories. Readers wholly ignore the rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation, but they nonetheless do a great job of painting a picture of the deceased.

For example, here are 25 randomly-chosen, unedited answers for the “occupation” prompt:

dog groomer
Music Artist
business owner
bluebonnet feeds
Dan was to leave for the US ARMY days before his murder
amazing grandma
Killigans, Steel Company
CEO, Producer, Artist
Go Getter
Cook at Kickback Jacks
soil testing
sing and baseball
lived off of women

In most cases, this occupation information is not already published in an online obituary, a Facebook profile, or in a news report. We’ve unearthed and published new information (although it’s not entirely trustworthy.)

For the “personality” prompt some answers include:

fun loving
inspirational loving giving unconditional live with no regrets love with all you have
He loved his family. He loved to make people laugh.
He was a loving father, son, brother, nephew, and friend to many
Best Father
fun loving, happy, goofy, responsible
Fun, loving, cheerful, peace maker
murdered sleeping in his own home
He is truly missed by so many
Amazing woman, mom and grandma! went above and beyond for everyone she cared for!
Aaron was funny goofy loved to make ppl laff and allways allways did anything to help anyone in need
savage stylish
Fun, Loving, Caring, Outgoing, Selfless,
hilarious, loyal, laid back, prettiest smile
loved his baby girl with all he had
Good friend,Mother and grandmother
He was murdered
People broke into home killed him
amazing! outgoing! and LOVED her girls!
Extrovert, Creative, Original, Real, Loyal

Some answers were off-topic, as you can see above. There was no prompt for general reactions or comments but that didn’t stop people from entering comments under unrelated prompts. I take this as an indication that our six prompts were too narrowly scoped (and the user interface is a little confusing.)

I found only five cases of vandalism which were not already deleted by readers. One of these vandals actually spent hours over several days posting dozens of answers to random pages. Two other vandals seemed to know the deceased and to harbor spiteful feelings; I expect to see this for murder-suicides in particular. Popular pages will be cleaned up by their readers, but unpopular pages may remain vandalized, so I started personally reviewing all new answers each day. This is a quick task, taking one or two minutes to scan through a list of 100 answers and click any inappropriate ones.

One very popular page was answered entirely in Albanian and Italian. Google Translate does not work very well on this dialect of Albanian. I am unable to effectively and efficiently review these answers, but this particular page has enough readers to moderate itself.

Our original launch included a seventh, multiple choice question to categorize the incident as: suicide, accident, domestic violence, police shooting, workplace shooting, stray bullet, road rage, armed robbery, justifiable self-defense, or “other homicide.” In practice, many people were confused by the definition of each category and the absence of other categories. One mother was extremely upset when she accidentally marked her son’s death as a suicide and couldn’t undo it. Our response was to simply drop this question for now. I suspect that this categorization will have to be handled by our editors.
What’s Next?

I am very encouraged by this crowdsourcing experiment and I think the next big step is to move beyond biographical facts and prompt readers to tell paragraph-length stories. Story Corps compiled a list of great questions for remembering a loved one, including prompts like:

Did you have any favorite jokes _____ used to tell?
What were _____’s hopes and dreams for the future?
What is the image of _____ that persists?

We can use the same moderation mechanisms for these longer-form contributions.

I can’t wait to see what our readers have to say!

So all it would take is someone creating a name and others giving thumbs up and you'd have "evidence" most people will accept as a "real death". Fascinating. If a small team of, say, five people could create thousands of "deaths" in a day this way ... imagine would a few days of planning and a little photoshop would do for a story that needs a manipulative "wall of tears" ...

In addition, how do they verify when they aren't taking randomly solicited answers?

How do you verify that the photo is correct?

We check that the surname, location, date of death, and age match what is reported in the news and in Gun Violence Archive. We find that many victims use nicknames that do not match the official first name published in the news report. For verification purposes, we publish a link to the source of each image ... We searched through all the Jones on Facebook in Timmonsville, SC and found a profile for a young man calling himself Dinero "Money" Jones. This Facebook user looks to be Darius' age and he has not posted publicly since the date of the shooting


Aha. So it's sure to be accurate then! Using the news and Facebook!


The use of the word "and" with the source "Gun Violence Archive" is also rather ambiguous. Are both sources compared, or could it be either, really? In any case, as SacredCowSlayer points out, the thing is a rather creepy, exploitative database. If you go to Gun Violence Archive ( you will see that "source" is always from those "trusted" networks that lie to us on a daily basis, for cash and profits and protection by the military.

Are real victims and supposed victims alike gathered from anything besides the reported deaths from any location at all within America? Such a project would seem to be crying specifically for State intervention on a Federal level.

If you're really into destroying any semblance of real democracy, technocratic decisions of a wealthy super class thinking themselves superior, or you just like to reinforce propaganda, you might thank Stephen P. Tarzia for being a gullible sell out that just wants to impress authority with his programming. Hire him today! :(


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Re: Anatomy of a Hoax

Postby SacredCowSlayer on October 18th, 2016, 11:00 pm

I'm making an effort to save all I can before this sick gets taken down.

In addition to others I've posted on, I find ones like this simply testing the limits of human credulity.


I love the comment about his feelings on quality photos. Oh my... :blink:

Any guesses on how long before this "memorial" site gets quietly scrubbed from the webs?

There's no telling how long they will allow such an embarrassment to stay up. If people can't see this then there's not much else we can do.

I only post this here in the Anatomy topic because I find the whole idea of such a "database" very disturbing. Seriously, how would one go about compiling the daily body/head count of victims of "gun violence" in a respectful manner while allowing any random person or thing to describe the victim?

I'm genuinely puzzled by the premise of the entire project. Are we supposed to think it's normal to prop one's dead relative up for a good digital beating like that?
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