What does it take to get your made-up story on Australia's most popular news site? Just an anonymous Reddit account, a story that will get people clicking, and a digitally altered image.
A Reddit user whose story was run prominently in some of Australia's leading online news outlets in the early days of 2017 now admits the whole thing was made up because "I was bored".
Outlets like news.com.au
(Nine's women's site) and Daily Mail Australia
all ran a story in recent days based on the anonymous claim of a Reddit user who on January 1 posted that their landlord had installed a coin-operated flush in the toilet as a way to boost rental revenue. Australia's most popular breakfast show, Sunrise
, also covered the story
, as did many American TV news shows. Hundreds of separate articles were filed on the toilet worldwide, according to a Google News search.
It's the second time in less than a month that a far-fetched story posted by an anonymous account on Reddit has been uncritically run on news outlets, then promptly denied by the original user after it garners widespread attention. In late December, numerous outlets, including news.com.au, ran an anonymous user's fabricated account -- as Crikey revealed last year
-- of finding out she was engaged to her half-brother.
While some Reddit users took the toilet story uncritically, it didn't take long for some to treat it with the scepticism it deserved. When a photo of the coin-operated flush was uploaded, some Reddit users set about demonstrating how it had clearly been photoshopped, using both saturation analysis
(which shows what parts of a picture have been most compressed -- a tell-tale sign of editing
) and by finding the images that had been combined to make the final, doctored image
. Many others pointed out the mechanical difficulties of actually installing a coin mechanism on a regular toilet, and of a landlord being able to legally gain frequent access to a property to empty the coins.
It was a scepticism -- boosted through the use of a (slightly) technical skill-set -- largely absent from the news outlets that went with the story. Of those outlets that did express some scepticism in the copy, it tended to be placed low and fleetingly, and didn't appear to lessen their willingness to run the (obviously fake) story.