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It’s hard not to root for the man who allegedly sold a pile of Chuck E. Cheese restaurant game tokens for $1.1 million by calling them “Bitcoins,” and to mock the suckers who thought they were getting rich quick on their purchases. Sadly, he doesn’t exist, and his story—which went wildly viral over the weekend—is a textbook example of “Fake News.”
Bitcoin, a type of imaginary internet money that’s popular with libertarians, has become quite valuable this year. As of December 18, one Bitcoin theoretically sells for $18,000 USD. The excitement over Bitcoin’s continued growth, combined with a number of recent stories about its catastrophic effects on the environment and the economy, means Bitcoin headlines are getting a lot of clicks right now.
The fake news purveyors at “satire” website Huzlers are well aware of this, and they crafted the perfect story to take advantage of Bitcoin madness. Who wouldn’t want to see greedy Bitcoin speculators taken for a ride by someone offering tokens from a kids’ novelty restaurant? The schadenfreude in the made-up story is rich and thick, and it added up to a viral hit.
People were so eager for the tale to be true that they didn’t bother checking the source. On its homepage, Huzlers claims to be “the most infamous fauxtire & satire entertainment website in the world,” not a reliable news source. It made its name on fake stories like Subway using cockroaches in its meat and Starbucks using semen in its lattes, and it’s known to capitalize on the latest trends. The combination of restaurant chain and Bitcoin is right in Huzlers’ wheelhouse.
It’s easy to be cynical about “fake news” when the Trump administration continually dilutes the meaning of the term, but fake news still exists in the old-school sense. Most of the sites that peddle it are up front about being “satirical,” so take a second to check before you share.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.