Interview with a hoaxster: How I fooled the Daily Mail with fake pic

Jody Kirton didn’t set out to fool the press, he just got lucky.

As detailed by the great Tabloid Watch blog, an image created by Kirton ended up forming the basis of a story on the Daily Mail’s website. Here’s the image in question:

Looks pretty authentic, yes? Well the image of a snow-covered road and cars never aired on the BBC, wasn’t taken in Lutterworth, and it certainly wasn’t submitted by anyone with the name Shanda Lear. (Chandelier, anyone?)

Kirton, a truck driver and photographer, created the image in Photoshop and then made it look like it had been on TV. After the Mail somehow discovered the image, it published a story headlined, “Not a name to make light of! BBC News shows picture taken by viewer called Shanda Lear.” It began:

It was meant to draw attention to the heavy snowfall which has started to blanket parts of the UK.

But when a viewer’s picture was shown on BBC News, all eyes were quickly diverted to the rather illuminating name of the person who sent it in.

Below the scene of snow-covered cars along a misty street in Lutterworth, Leicestershire, the name Shanda Lear popped up, much to the amusement of those watching.

I got in touch with Kirton to get the backstory and see if he’d intended to reel in the press. Our edited email Q&A is below. He says it was an accident, but that it’s inspired him to engage in more trolling. So consider this a look at how a hoax can be perpetrated by a lack of fact checking — and how it can inspire average folks to try it again.

Can you tell me a bit about your background? Who are you and what do you do?

I’m a lorry driver but also a photographer for Phlex Media (a joint venture with my best pal Chris Linham).

We do mainly music event photography.

In fact, you might be aware of another of my works, it spread quick but stayed away from public eyes, it was the “DMA gunfinger video.” Basically I caught a girl and lad getting intimate at the front row of a dubstep music awards show in Birmingham, UK. The video was banned off YouTube in 45 mins after over 200,000 views!

Why did you decide to create the Photoshopped image of that BBC report? Were you hoping a media outlet would be fooled into thinking it was real?
The snow photo started as a joke between friends, because we were fed up with people getting excited over a little flutter of snow, so we were posting old photos of deep snow and saying it was this week in nearby locations!

I went a stage further and edited the photo and put the BBC banners onto the still image. I changed the text to make it more realistic for today, including the year.

Then I added a local place, which is a few miles from where I live, and a funny name. (I have used similar names in past when texting radio stations, like Neil Lingdown, Benny Fitzraud, Jack Nife etc).

I then saved the static jpg image onto a memory stick and plugged it into my TV.

Then it sat there looking like a paused TV channel, so I took the actual photo with my BlackBerry and posted it to my PhlexMedia Facebook page.

A few friends had a joke about it, and that was it, until this morning I get a message saying it was seen on Daily Mail website!

What was your reaction when you saw the Mail had used it as the basis for a story?

I couldn’t believe the DM used the image as part of a story, acting like they had also seen it live, which as described was impossible! That image stayed on the memory stick until this morning where I posted it to my Facebook page to show and explain to friends how I did it.

Now that this ended up being treated as true by at least one media outlet, do you have any regrets about fooling people? Is there a lesson here for you or others?
I don’t have any regrets in doing this, I feel it has proved how a joke between friends can make national news almost!

What I don’t understand is how they saw my image, it was only on my page!

With this success under your belt, are you planning more hoaxes?

More hoaxes… of course! A very good friend of mine who runs a clothing business — ‘Zest Clothing’ — has a very similar attitude and we are always playing jokes and ‘trolling’ online … it drives people mad but keeps us sane! Haha!!

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  • Anonymous

    But the WWN was much more fun.

  • dw

    The Daily Mail rivals the sadly-missed Weekly World News in its journalistic standards.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=616173468 James Lippett

    Legend.