Since Pokémon Go launched earlier this month, the nostalgia-filled iPhone game has generated its fair share of eye-catching headlines.
As children, teens, and, let's face it, adults, bumble around with their eyes glued to their iPhones, some mayhem has ensued: Four teens used the game to rob multiple unsuspecting victims, the game unwittingly led a woman to discover a man's body and one man's home was designated a "Pokémon Gym," leading to a slew of unexpected visitors looking to train their virtual creatures.
But here's something that definitely hasn't happened: Timmy Richards, a 15-year-old Florida teen, definitely didn't stab his 13-year-old brother to death over deleted Pokémon. A man hasn't sued the game company Nintendo for $500 million after being hit by a car while playing Pokémon Go. And ISIS definitely hasn't claimed responsibility for login problems on the game.
Those stories are works of fiction published on the website CartelPress.com, which looks a lot like a news website but actually isn't. Although the site features many staples of digital news (headlines, a banner advertisement, an animated bar labeled "TRENDING NOW"), it's actually full of fabricated stories. Here's a sample from an article titled "Major Highway Accident After Man Stops In Middle Of Highway To Catch Pikachu!"
MASSACHUSETTS — 26-Year-Old Lamar Hickson is accused of causing one of the worst highway accidents after stopping in the middle of the highway to catch a Pikachu.
Lamar Hickson admitted to police that he was playing the newly released Pokémon app game know as "Pokémon Go" while driving. He said "Sh*t if you wanna catch them all you gotta risk it all so I put my car in park and started tossing these balls."
The lede of the story and the colorful quote seemed within the realm of possibility given the other hijinks that have attended Pokémon Go, so Poynter looked up the owner of the website and gave him a call.
Minutes later, a man who identified himself as Pablo Reyes called back, confirmed the stories were fake and explained that he doesn't actually expect people to believe them. He pointed to the website's "Terms and Conditions" (visible at the bottom of the homepage to readers who scroll all the way down), which states that CartelPress is "a satirical website owned by Huzlers.com."
Reyes, who says he's a graphics developer, web designer, writer and internet entrepreneur, called the site "just a mock-up" for an as-yet unlaunched site that will allow users to create their own fictional stories and share them on social media.
"Right now the articles are just written by me," he said. "In the future, it’s going to be an open-source news site, where people are going to go and write their own news.”
Reyes says the stories are written by him and his "editor," whom he called David. He says CartelPress.com is a "sub-branch" of Huzlers.com, which calls itself "the most notorious fauxtire entertainment website in the world founded by Pancho Villa in 1922."
This isn't the first time Reyes has been written about for online fabrication. In July 2015, he was quoted in an article by Fusion saying that Huzlers.com routinely published made-up stories. "Some are satire, and some are just meant to be shocking and not funny at all," he said. He appeared on BuzzFeed last month after tricking Facebook users into believing he had predicted many watershed events in 2016.
Reyes gave a somewhat counterintuitive explanation for his decision to publish fake news stories. By posting phony articles, he says he's actually priming readers to be more suspicious of what they read on the internet, ultimately encouraging more careful news consumption.
"I don’t feel bad about it, but at the same time it helps to raise awareness about the kind of news people are getting," he said. "...Try to do your own research on every type of news that you’re hearing. Find out truth on your own."
He took a dim view of the news in general, and contended that what he does isn't too far afield from news published by mainstream news organizations.
"Most of the news is fake anyway, so why not create a news website where people can actually write bullshit?" he asked.