The video is an elaborate fake. It shows a pig rescuing a drowning goat. Few know this when the video starts getting circulated around the Internet at warp speed.
Within hours of being the fake video being posted, the YouTube clip attracts more than 7 million views. Some 30,000 viewers give it a thumbs up. The fake video instantly becomes a media darling only to later be dismissed. At first, no one seems to question the video’s authenticity. Everybody wants a piece of the story. The heroic swine’s exploits are broadcast on NBC’s “Today” show and “Nightly News,” ABC’s Good Morning America and Fox News’ “Fox & Friends.” Followers swap stories about the pig’s exploits on Twitter.
Then, someone smells a rat.
One of those persons is New York Times reporter David Izkoff who reports, “The video was thoroughly staged.”
It turns out that Comedy Central series, “Nathan for You,” with the help of some 20 crew members cooked up a fantastic ruse. Using animal trainers, scuba divers and humane officers, the staff assembled a fabricated plastic track to guide the pig to the goat, which it turns out was never in jeopardy.
Comedy Central is forced to come clean. Nathan Fielder explains in the video posted here on camjournalism.com how the rescue was nothing more than an elaborate multimedia ruse, a publicity stunt. (The original fake rescue video can viewed at the bottom of this blog post.)
One might ask: Shouldn’t common sense have prevailed sooner? Pigs can swim. But a pig rescuing a goat? Few seemed to question that fact. The incident left more than a few journalists embarrassed.
Comedy Central says it didn’t intend for the publicity stunt to be an elaborate hoax.
“If we were trying to pull an elaborate hoax on the news, I think we could have pushed further,” Nathan Fielder, the star of “Nathan for You,” told the New York Times. “But we weren’t. We found it interesting that people were sharing it without us saying anything.”
The pig rescue video shows how easy it is to spread rumors, not to mention outright fiction. In our wired world, information travels light speed. The more unbelievable the statement, the faster it gets repeated. Speed trump accuracy, or in this case, common sense.
Have we reached a state where the truth is always in dispute? Where people never agree on a set of facts because so many versions of the facts are being constantly circulated?
One issue comes to mind, namely the case of whether President Obama is a naturalized citizen.
I know for a fact that Texans still believe President Obama isn’t a U.S. citizen. Last year, the situation got so out of hand that the White House actually released Obama’s birth certificate, in hope of settling the issue. But the White House’s decision merely caused people to then doubt whether the document was forged.
We should be concerned about the accuracy of information being disseminated in our culture. Having truthful and accurate information allows us to make better decisions. Without facts, we are all in trouble. I discuss these points with students at DePauw University where I teach multimedia storytelling, journalism and media studies. The kids are smart, sophisticated users of technology. But there is often confusion among students about the accuracy of information. What can they trust?
Increasingly, people rely on online information. The problem is a lack of standards when it comes to truth. In the days of old media, editors were gatekeepers. Magazines like Forbes where I used to work had fact checkers. Now, we rely on this huge digital pipeline called the Internet. Some of the information is good. But a lot of what we read or view is tainted. Online information should be viewed skeptically.
That is because the Internet is filled with information produced to fit a particular agenda. It may be political, but the agenda is often commercial. Among the worst offenders are advertisers. Looking for examples? The technology website Mashable posted a collection of videos that went viral that are in fact advertising.
Products pitches are being disguised as information or news when in fact they are nothing more than an attempt to influence buyers’ behavior. Authors are manipulating reviews. So are hotels, restaurants and a host of other businesses.
So where does Comedy Central fit. The video was a public relations coup for the entertainment channel. It was also funny. But dismissing Comedy Central’s antics as trivial misses a much larger point.
Marketers, public relations professionals and entertainment companies should hold themselves to a higher standard. It should be true. Content shouldn’t be designed to fool or deceive. When people feel duped or deceived, they tune out the message.
Success encourages copycats. Unfortunately, we will probably see more videos like the fake pig rescue. Why? Money. There is simply too much to be gained even if it requires deception. — By Mark Tatge
Image courtesy of YouTube, Comedy Central