The reason that eagle-snatches-baby video hoax went so viral


Remember that video of the baby-snatching eagle that took over the Internet a couple months ago?

Freelance writer Chris Stokel-Walker has a long piece for BuzzFeed about how it all unfolded. He talked to everyone involved in the hoax -- including the professor who made hoax videos the core of his coursework, the four-student team that created the video and the 17-year-old in Portugal who debunked it.

The students discovered a secret ingredient, Stokel-Walker explains, as they searched for a video concept. They could have faked a plane landing on a city street, or a number of other shocking incidents. But they foresaw extra impact from choosing to use a bird of prey -- tapping into a deep human mythology, from Native American lore to Alfred Hitchcock film, about the potential for birds to become human predators.

The video was designed not just to fool and impress people, but to prey upon an ingrained but unacknowledged cultural fear of birds. Capitalizing on that deeply rooted emotion is what makes the video so viral. Not just that it depicted an amazing event, but that it evoked feelings of shock, horror, then cathartic relief. People share content that makes them feel something.

The video got 17 million views in a day, almost 42 million in total, and spread to major news outlets everywhere. And it certainly won't be the last attempt.

"The next crop of students," Stokel-Walker writes, "are already planning their hoax videos."

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    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


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