Having spent a considerable amount of time following the Olympics on Twitter, I can confirm the following: a unicorn won gold in the men's ski jump, Russian President Vladimir Putin is really just two short men stacked on top of each other, and all those laughable Sochi toilets have been replaced with equally hilarious mop buckets.
Okay, so none of that is true, at least as far as we know. But these Olympics have given rise to a great number of fictional story lines — some of them deliberately manufactured, others simply the products of a long-distance game of telephone.
Part of the blame lies with that usual suspect, social media, which makes it easy to quickly spread misinformation. But much of it also can be attributed to a credulous public all too willing to believe anything that fits neatly into the unfortunate "LOL Russia" narrative of the Games.
Not all the ridiculous stories you hear are truthful. Here, six Olympic-sized fibs.
While the fabled double toilets are real, many of the other pictures to emerge on social media purporting to show bathroom disasters — proximate audience seating, a toilet built halfway into a wall — are not. Some of the photos were taken elsewhere in the country, while others didn't even originate in Russia. A few images clearly predate the Olympics per some light Google searching, though their exact origin is unknown.
Fake Putin reactions
In a similar vein, there have been plenty of fake images of "Sochi" floating around out there. One grisly example purported to show a pile of executed dogs, though the photo was taken in 2012, in Ukraine. But the best example yet of this kind of hoax was an image of a bummed Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev that was supposedly snapped after Finland knocked the Russian hockey team from the quarterfinal round on Wednesday.
— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) February 19, 2014
The picture, which spread widely on Twitter, is real — but it's not from Russia's loss against Finland. It was taken during Russia's victory over Slovakia a few days earlier.
Translations are hard to get just right, particularly when you try to literally render idiomatic expressions. In Sochi, that appeared to be the case for menu copy editors.
Sochi menu. Not a joke. pic.twitter.com/OAnXN9h5rk
— Eugene Gourevitch (@gourev) February 5, 2014
Now, there is some truth to this one. "Ass." is often used as an abbreviation for "assorted," and some reporters in Sochi have flagged the translation during their stays. Still, the widely cited tweet above is definitely a fake: it appeared on College Humor back in 2012.
Fake hacking scandals
Before the Games began, NBC reported that hackers were aggressively messing with Olympic tourists. However, security experts soon poked holes in the story, noting that, among other things, the videotaped segment was shot in Moscow, not Sochi. Moreover, the security breaches mentioned in the story could have happened anywhere, they said.
NBC has stuck by the particulars of its story. But the broader notion that anyone going to Sochi should expect to be hacked is almost assuredly overblown.
Fake death sentences
Did you hear the one about Russia executing the guy responsible for the epic Olympic Rings fail during the opening ceremony? Maybe your mom/coworker/fact-averse acquaintance emailed it to you with the headline "Fwd. fwd. fwd. fwd. Crazy Sochi!!!"
Well, the story appears to have originated on the website The Daily Currant, as bad, duping satire often does.
We've entered a strange age of viral marketing, with brands subverting the traditional ad format to directly reach consumers. For instance, beer brand Newcastle launched an effective ad campaign about how it wouldn't be advertising during the Super Bowl.
So some were easily fooled when this fake Audi ad poked fun at the aforementioned Olympic Rings whoopsie, with the tagline "When four rings is all you need."
— Lou Dubois (@dubois) February 12, 2014
The ad blew up on Reddit before sleuths concluded it was phony.