Story about man marrying granddaughter goes viral, is probably fake
If you wanted to trick a bunch of media outlets into picking up a fake viral story, how would you go about it?
First, you’d probably choose the state of Florida, which can probably start counting weird news stories among its major exports. Second, you’d throw up a website with a generic newspaper name. Third, come up with some sort of news story that is tailor-made to bring in the clicks.
And here we are, with the “Florida Sun Post,” and a story about a Miami millionaire who accidentally married his daughter.
All indications point to the story and the website being fake. That hasn’t stopped numerous media outlets from picking up the story, including The Independent, Elite Daily, Complex and UK tabloid The Sun. Those reports then spread further, with the New York Post, picking up the Sun‘s report.
The questionable nature of the story and website was first noticed by whoever runs the Twitter parody account @_FloridaMan, which is dedicated to weird Florida news.
Fake news continues to permeate the internet, with the occasional story getting picked up by mainstream outlets. Facebook has struggled to keep fake news out of its Trending Topics section now that it is almost entirely run by algorithms. A particularly infamous fake internet story circulated in 2014 about a woman who claimed to have gotten surgery to add a third breast.
Another fake story centered on a claim that Michael Jordan was going to move the Charlotte Hornets out of North Carolina. That was perpetrated in part by a fake ABC News website that has a similar web address and similar look to the real ABC News website.
Scratching the surface of the “Florida Sun Post” website reveals that the page was begun just a few days ago, as noted by the Twitter account.
The site itself also seems off in a variety of ways. Every story expect for the one that has gone viral is behind a paywall, and there seems to be almost no coherence to the stories on the various pages. Much of it has an international bent, including the “Sport” page, which includes cricket coverage.
Strangely enough, I could not find the viral marriage story anywhere on its site. The story appears to only be accessible if you have the direct link. The story also appears to be the only article outsides of a paywall. We did not want to pay the $4.99 to see what lay behind it.
The story itself is also very strangely written. There is no byline, although the post claims that the unnamed man talked to “reporters” and the woman talked to “journalists.”
Other stories on the website appear to be based on other reports, such as a teen in Pensacola fatally stabbing his older brother. That story was posted on Monday, although the Associated Press published about the incident on Friday.
Deeper parts of the website appear to be copy-and-paste jobs. The privacy page appears to be verbatim from freeprivacypolicy.com. The “terms” page is slightly most customized, and claims to have been last edited on Jan. 15, 2010.
I reached out to the website through its contact page, and received back an email that Google immediately deemed suspicious.
Despite what appears to be a very fake website possibly designed to go viral (the website’s pages are loaded with sponsored links that tend to generate a decent amount of cash when displayed on highly trafficked pages), the story had spread relatively wide by Monday morning.
The Independent appeared to be among he first outlets to aggregate the story. I reached out to them to ask if the article was under review. They did not immediately respond.
But if there was any question over whether the story was gaining steam, Drudge Report still has an active link to the Independent post, meaning the paper has little incentive not to keep on receiving that sweet, sweet Drudge traffic.
The Drudge Report also linked out to the Independent‘s story from its website and twitter account.